Story Immaculate

Len Auphydas

Scourge of Evil
Roleplay Availability
Roleplay Type(s)
Heyo! I've decided to start posting one chapter of my story "Immaculate" every week, here. I have been waiting to post it on royalroad for various reasons but, I figured I might as well start posting here, as I am impatient. I included the blurb first to give some rough concept of what the story is about, then its onto the prologue and I'll post the first chapter a week after I post this.
Alunya lives in a small village deep in the heartlands, with his older brother Antares and doting mother, Reia. As long as anyone can remember, the isolated community has stood under the protection of its guardian deity, Hylicia. As long as one never left its borders, they were safe from the myriad dangers of the deep heartlands, where wild magic and divine beasts freely roamed. Few left, and none returned, for the divine barrier was nigh-impervious to mortals.

But long years of peace and isolation breed stagnation, complacency... And a fear of the unknown. And as Alunya's abilities begin to grow at an unheard of rate, admiration quickly gives way to fear and distrust.

2882 P.C., the First of Spring, Hylicia’s Vale.

Antares watches with curiosity from the bedside, where his mother is holding her newborn babe closely. The baby is the picture of health, cooing softly in its mother's arms, maybe a little larger than most babies were. Just minutes ago, Reia had been screaming in pain as she delivered on her own, nobody else in sight save two-year-old Antares himself. But now, Reia is calm and smiling warmly as she lovingly holds the infant in her arms. All is silent, save for the pitter patter of rain outside, and the distant rumble of thunder somewhere off in the distance.

Antares climbs up onto the bed, his knees wobbling slightly as he pulls himself up onto the bed, and holds his arms outstretched for the child, looking up at Reia earnestly. Reia looks back down at her older son, smiling softly. “Do you want to hold your little brother?” she asks.

“Little… bro-ver?” Antares asks, his voice full of wonder as he looks down at the newborn, who Reia places delicately into Antares’s waiting arms, making sure to hold him securely up on the bed.

“That’s right, he’s your new little brother. That means he’s your family, just like me.” Reia affirms, holding Antares to make sure he doesn’t let the newborn child fall. “As his older brother, it’ll be your job to take care of him, too.” Reia asserts firmly.

Antares stares down at the child, feeling a strange sense of warmth in his heart. His new little brother was nestled down in his arms, curling up next to his chest, yawning and mewling softly. Despite being newborn, the child already has a thin layer of hair on top of his head, as white as snow. Antares delicately brushes the baby’s scalp, the thin wispy strands parting around his hand. “Does it have a name?” Antares asks, looking back up at Reia soulfully.

Reia pauses for a moment. She had thought long and hard about this before, of course, but as she sat there, all those previous ideas melted away and a single word came to her mind. “Alunya.”

Alunya. The name engraves itself into Antares’s mind as the infant shifts, wriggling around in Antares’s arms, and opens his eyes- Bright silver, brighter than anything Antares had ever seen. The baby was calmer than one would expect, almost knowing in how it stared up at him. It looks almost like a reflection in a pond, save for the bright white hair and silver eyes that mark Alunya apart from him.

Acting on instinct, Antares squeezes his eyes tightly shut, focusing deep down. Alunya. My little brother. My… family? Those words stood out in his mind, but he couldn’t quite grasp them yet. He had seen other kids with their families, of course, but somehow this felt more special to him. In his mind's eye, he could just about see the two of them growing up together. There was an odd buzzing sensation, as he felt Alunya’s presence, so close to him, in a way he couldn’t quite explain, feeling as though it was getting closer…

But when he opens his eyes again, he sees Reia staring at him, her jaw hanging wide open and her eyes open in shock. “H-huh? Mamma?” Antares squeals, shivering as he wonders what he had done wrong.

“A-Antares, how did you…?” Reia slowly gets out, while Antares simply blinks up at her. “G-go look at yourself!” Reia follows up, taking Alunya from his older brother.

Antares stumbles back unsurely, looking as though he was about to cry, but did as Reia said. But when he looks down into the water in the big copper pot by the bedside, he blinks in confusion, not understanding what he was seeing.

Because in his reflection, the raven-black hair he had shared with his mother was gone, and in its place, was a head of pristine, snow-white hair, the same color as his new brother.
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Chapter I, an Idyllic Childhood
2890 P.C., the First of Autumn, Hylicia’s Vale.

Alunya’s eyes spring open, a bright smile already on the boy’s face. Throwing the blanket off of himself, he leans down from the top bunk and climbs down towards where Antares is sleeping, his hair dangling down towards the ground. Holding himself up on the top bunk with one arm, with the other he reaches forwards and nudges Antares’s sleeping form.

Antares’s eyes blink open, and he flops onto his side, meeting the excited face of Alunya staring at him. “What is it?” Antares murmurs, rubbing his eyes sleepily.

Alunya clasps his hands together excitedly, holding himself anchored to the upper bunk by his legs, upside-down, giggling. “It’s the festival day! C’mon, c’mon, c’mon!”

Antares groans and rolls back over to face away from Alunya. It was indeed the day of the fall festival, but that wasn’t until sundown, and it was quite apparently nowhere near sundown. “Let me sleep in, I’m tired!” Antares complains, throwing a pillow at Alunya before burrowing back down into his blankets.

Alunya grips the upper bedpost and swings down onto the lower bunk, nudging Antares from behind. “Aww, c’mon Ant! I haven’t gotten to play with you in ages!” For weeks, Antares had always been too tired from his chores to play with Alunya. But today was different; Nobody worked on the day of the festival!

Antares delves even deeper into his blanket, grabbing one of his remaining pillows and hugging it close to him. “Just lemme rest a little longer and I’ll come play with you.” Antares pleads, his voice muffled by the pillow.

Alunya looks down at Antares with his characteristic big doe eyes. “Promise?” He asks, pleadingly.

Antares rolls over, his gaze softening as he looks into his brother's eyes. “...I promise.” He replies earnestly.

Alunya smiles and claps his hands together. “Yay!” He jumps up and runs a lap around the room, holding his arms outstretched like wings, before rushing out into the kitchen, running two laps around the hearth before Reia manages to get him to slow down.

“Someone’s in a good mood today!” Reia laughs as she picks him up and spins him around, eliciting a “Wheee!” sound from the boy. “Where’s your brother? I made pumpkin scones for you two.” The table was already set with them, amber-colored biscuits with a very light amount of honey drizzled over the top, making it a real treat.

“He’s being a big sleepyhead! He didn’t want to get up yet!” Alunya announces, his legs swinging idly in the air beneath him.

“I’m here, I’m here!” Antares proclaims, dragging his blanket behind him as he trails into the room, yawning.

“Good morning, sweetie!” Reia sits down at the table and smiles at Antares.

Antares sniffs the air, his stomach audibly growling. “I heard you say… pumpkin scones?” He says, hopefully, as he climbs up onto his chair where he can see the tantalizing treats laid out on the table.

“Now, now, don’t eat too many- You’re going to eat plenty tonight at the festival, I’m sure.” Reia lectures, though it was doubtful either Alunya or Antares heard her by the way they had already started stuffing their faces.

Reia snickers and holds her hand up to her mouth while Alunya chews on his food, crumbs covering his cheeks. She reaches over to wipe them off, while Alunya blinks up at her with his big silvery eyes.

“Doesn't your hair get in your eyes?" Reia asks, brushing it out of the way. "Do you want me to cut it so it's not in your face?”

Alunya shakes his head vehemently, whipping the hair in question from side to side. "Nuh-uh, I can see just fine! See?" He blows a huff of air up, clearing the strands from his face.

"But don't you want to look nice for the festival?" Reia asks. "Everyone else will be looking their best, you don't want to stand out, do you?"

"No, I like my hair!" Alunya protests, holding his hands over his head protectively as if worried she would steal it. It had grown out past his shoulders and over his face over the past year, Reia had tried to cut it several times but every time Alunya struggled too much.

"Alright, alright!" Reia throws her hands up in mock surrender. "At least let me comb it out for you. Everyone's going to be at the festival, you two need to look your best." Antares, of course, was largely left out of this, since his hair was quite short and he could brush it himself just fine anyways.

Alunya struggles against Reia as she tries to brush it out. His hair would just get messy again by the festival anyways, so what did it matter if she did it now? Alunya looks desperately over at Antares for help, but Antares was just nibbling on his scones, watching his little brother and mother struggle with bemusement.

Finally, Reia finishes combing out his hair, and Alunya sighs in relief. "I need to head out to get everything ready for the festival. Antares, take care of your little brother while I'm gone, alright?" Reia announces, standing up. The scones had all disappeared by now, with a coating of crumbs still over Antares's mouth while Alunya's was spotless after receiving Reia's attention.

Antares looks at Reia pleadingly and tugs on her coat. “Aww, do you have to go? Can't I come with you?”

“Well…” Reia hesitates. “I don’t know…”

“Ooh, me too, me too!” Alunya jumps up and down, waving his arms to get Reia’s attention.

“Oh, alright. I guess you two could help me make meals, it would help out. Alright boys, follow me.” Reia swings the thatch door of their stone hut open before the entourage of three march off towards the outskirts of town.

“Where are we going, mama?” Alunya pipes up, prancing along following Reia as she puts up a good pace.

“Just out to the pastures, sweetie. I’m not sure our old goat will survive over the winter, so it’s best if we take care of them now.” Reia responds. “It’ll be alot of work to prepare the meat before the festival, so we’d better hurry, alright?”

When the three of them reach the pasture on the side of the village, Antares goes to find their goat- Watching the village’s pasture was one of his most common chores, so picking out an individual head from the herd was a skill he had plenty of practice with.

The family’s goat was an old doe, distinguishable not only by being branded with “Reia” but also because it was noticeably the oldest of the herd, well past reproductive age. Most goat’s were butchered well before this point, but since it was likely the family's most valuable possession Reia had held off until now. In all it's years, it had only ever had one kid, and it was fairly scrawny,

Antares leads the old doe back to Reia, shivering a little at the mellow, tired look in the goat’s eyes and averting his own. The goat was older than he was, completely oblivious of the fate that lay in store for it. Taking a deep breath, Antares steels himself; Reia thought it was best for them to butcher the goat now, so that's what they would do.

Reia takes the goat from Antares, and leads it back with her boys, stopping only once they had reached just outside of their home.

“Alright, now watch closely you two! You’ll need to know how to do this one day, too.” Reia instructs, removing a long, slender, single-sided copper knife from her satchel. Once the goat saw the knife, it went stock still and started trying to run off, but Reia had a firm grip around it. “Antares, help me hold it down! But watch its hooves, I don’t want you getting hurt!”

Antares nods dutifully. He had said he wanted to help, after all. The boy grabs the goat’s hindquarters, restraining it while keeping at an angle where its legs couldn't kick him easily. Once the goat was held suitably still, Reia carefully places the tip of the knife against one of its sides, and pushes it in.

The first attempt went awry- Reia had not had experience with this for a long while, and missed the vitals, the blade catching on a rib as the old goat made a horrible screaming sound which could surely be heard over half the village. Antares blanches and looks away, a little bit sickened, while Alunya watches on enthralled.

“Damn… Come on, you’re only making this harder on yourself.” Reia hisses to the goat.

“Ooh! Ooh! Let me try!” Alunya reaches up and wrenches the knife free, eager to help, and Reia in panic grabs his wrist- harder than she meant to- making him drop the knife, the copper blade clattering across the ground.

“No!” Reia shouts, sternly, and Alunya’s chipper expression almost immediately gives way to crying as Reia’s grip lessens, and she leans down to pick up the knife. “I mean, don’t pick up sharp objects, you could hurt yourself!” She says in a panic, half-scolding and half trying to calm him down. With a frustrated sigh, she places the knife back against the goat. “Just stay there, I’ll get it.”

Alunya blinks up at her blearily and curls his legs up, his blubbering mixing with the goat’s screaming to make an unholy cacophony which, in turn, makes Antares cover his ears.

Finally, the goat’s wailing is cut off as Reia drives the knife into its heart. The struggling of the goat- already not very strong, as it was old and scrawny to start with- gradually diminished as it lost consciousness before collapsing. “Alright.” Reia sighs heavily, and gets down on her knees over Alunya. “Come on, little ‘Lunya… I just didn’t want you to get hurt. You’re not old enough to use a knife.” Reia chides gently, while Alunya rubs his eye, his lip quivering.

Antares hesitantly uncovers his ears. At least the goat isn’t screaming anymore… He sighs with relief, while Reia tries to comfort Alunya.

“Antares, can you help me stretch the goat out? I have to go take Alunya inside.” Reia asks. Antares bites his lip unsurely, looking at the still-warm corpse of the goat with a degree of queasiness, but uncertainly nods his head.

Following Reia’s instruction, the goat is lifted and placed on its front, stretched out so that it is easier to work with. Reia soon came outside to relieve Antares and took over. “Go try and calm down Alunya, I need to make sure we get this thing butchered in time for the festival.” Reia instructs, calmly but authoritatively.

Antares frowns. “But, I can help…” He starts, but Reia wags her finger, interrupting.

“Now, now, what did I say about knives? I’ll show you how to do it one of these days, but I don’t have time right now, with the festival tonight. Plus, I don’t want Alunya running off somewhere while I’m working. Please, Antares, I’m counting on you to be the responsible one, ok?”

Antares puffs out a cheek, upset, but nods. Be mature. Adult’s don’t cry over silly things like this. Antares reminds himself, reluctantly heading inside.

“Alunya?” Antares calls out, finding the younger boy sulking in the corner by the fireplace.

“...Huh? Oh, what is it, Ant?” Alunya’s voice was unusually dull for the normally indefatigable young boy.

The corners of Antares’s mouth tug down in an empathetic frown, and he slides down to sit next to the boy. “Are you OK?”Antares prods, unsurely- This wasn’t really his forte, if anything Alunya was usually the one trying to comfort him when he was upset.

Alunya crosses his arms, puffing out a cheek and looking off into the distance before replying in an unmistakably pouty voice. “I was just trying to help…” Alunya whines.

Antares sighs. What would Mom do to cheer him up..? He didn’t really know. But then, he remembers that morning, and an idea pops into his mind.

“You said you wanted to play with me today, right? Mom’s out worrying about the goat… If we are quiet we might be able to get outside without her noticing, as long as we aren't gone too long.” Antares suggests. Should I really be thinking this..? I’m supposed to be the responsible one. But when Antares sees how Alunya perks up at the suggestion, he knew it was too late to take it back.

“Really? You mean it, Ant?” Alunya squeals. “I mean, you did promise you’d play with me today!”

Antares hushes Alunya anxiously, glancing out the front. “Y-yeah, we should have at least a couple hours before Mom is done dressing the goat. But keep it down, we don’t want her to hear!” Antares hisses out.

Alunya beams up at Antares, throwing both arms around his older brother and overbalancing the older boy. Despite the differences in ages, Antares notes with some discomfort that Alunya was nearly the same size as him now- Only a little slighter in frame.

“Oof- Alright, alright, let’s go.” Antares crawls out from under Alunya and up to his feet. “Quiet now!” Antares hushes Alunya, as the two of them delicately sneak out of the window in the back of the hut. Where are we going to go play? Antares wonders, but Alunya had already taken his hand and was leading him excitedly onwards.

“C’mon, now that you’re with me, we can go into the forest! Mom showed me what things are good to eat a week ago, I can show you now!” Alunya proclaims eagerly.

Antares hesitates again. Should he try to talk Alunya out of going into the woods? His mother was counting on him to be the responsible one, after all. But… How long had it been since he had been that far from home, except to help his mother in the fields? Alunya wasn’t the only one who was bored from Antares having chores every day. Before long, the argument in Antares’s head resolved itself in Alunya’s favor, and the two boys vanished into the woods behind their home.


Alunya sprints up the hill with a yelp, arms outstretched as usual, while Antares jogs along after him. The white birch forest is a beautiful shade of orange and white this time of year, and thankfully the autumn meant the underbrush had died down enough to make walking through the woods relatively easy.

The woods were quite pleasant; Granted, even when the two of them were back in the village nature was never exactly far off, but it still felt a tad different when there were no buildings or noises of people in sight. Getting lost wasn’t too much of a concern, since one could always just head towards the low ground then follow the river if they really needed to find their way back home.

As Antares caught up with Alunya, his little brother had started prying some mushrooms off of a tree on top of the hill, turning around to offer some to Antares. “Here! Mommy said these were…” Alunya paused for a second while he tried to remember what they were called, before just shaking his head, whirling his hair around. “Uhm, I don’t remember what she called them, but they’re really tasty! Try them!”

Antares stares down at the mushrooms dubiously. They were mottled brown with reddish tones, pretty wide and flat, shaped kind of like a pancake. “Are you sure these are ok to eat…?” He mumbles, unconvinced.

Alunya smiles back at him cheerily. “Mom said they’re good for you and will help us grow up big and strong!” Alunya purses his lips and puts a finger to them, looking up thoughtfully. “Although, I’m not sure if I want to be big and strong… But if mom says it's good for us then it probably is, right?”

Antares shrugs and takes a hesitant bite, contemplating the flavor before his eyes light up and he immediately devours another two. “Let's take some of them back home with us, we can use them to season the goat while it's cooking!” Alunya suggests. Antares nods and helps him collect them off of some of the trees. After they had about two handfuls, Antares unslings his satchel from his shoulder. “C’mon, give me all you picked, we can put them away here.”

As Antares slings the satchel back over his shoulder, Alunya was already running off towards the slope at the far end of the hill. The slope was actually remarkably clear for whatever reason, save that a good amount of leaves had still blown over onto it. Without hesitation, Alunya dives down into the leaves and pushes himself off the slope, rolling over and quickly building up speed as he giggles uncontrollably. “Hey, wait for me!” Antares cries out, diving down into the leaves and following suit down the hill.

By now, Alunya had already reached the bottom, and his dizziness had disappeared very quickly. So as soon as he sees Antares rolling down after him, Alunya gives a mischievous smirk, repositioning himself so that he was sitting right in front of where Antares was rolling, with his legs down, forming a slope up from the ground.

When Antares rolls into him, the momentum carries him up onto Alunya’s lap and he slams into his abdomen with some force, but Alunya was braced against the ground and did not move. Antares blinks in a confused daze. “Huh..? Alunya?”

Alunya’s smirk grows as he then reaches down to pet Antares’s hair, giggling. “What a time to take a nap, silly. But if you need my lap as a pillow, I’m willing to provide.” Alunya pronounces in a mock serious tone. Antares blushes and hides his face, frantically scrambling to stand up. Alunya brushes himself off as well, blowing a leaf that was stuck to his face away with a quick motion. Surely, if Reia had seen him, she would have been terribly upset at how he had ruined the neat and tidy look she had given him that morning.

None of that was anywhere in Alunya’s thoughts, however, as he catches the sight of something enticing under the leaves near one of the trees and skips over to the specimen. Kneeling down and brushing away the leaves, he admires his find; a big branch of a tree that must have snapped off in some windstorm, completely barren of leaves.

Eyes shining, Alunya reaches down and picks it up. It really was a nice stick; something sloughed off the bark on one end, so it had a smooth grip. There was even a little notch in the wood, slightly higher up, that made it rest in his hand just perfectly! Holding it in both hands and twirling it in a flourish that looked far more elaborate in his mind than it did in real life, he could just imagine himself holding a sword- Although, given that he had never actually seen a sword, the imagery was pretty vague in his mind.

His reverie was broken when Antares, with a similarly nice stick, suddenly thrusts at his, the two long branches bashing against each other with a satisfying thud. “En garde!” Antares pronounces, holding his “sword” outstretched in one hand with a competitive smile on his face.

Alunya yelps in surprise, falling back on one foot. Antares draws his stick back to near his cheek and waits for Alunya to be ready. Alunya returns with a cheeky smile, and pulls his own stick back into a ridiculous overblown stance. As soon as Antares was satisfied that Alunya was ready, he swipes forward with his stick, which Alunya neatly blocks by raising the middle to where Antares’s contacted it, holding his own stick at both ends more like a quarterstaff.

Antares shoves Alunya’s weapon away and swipes forward in a horizontal motion with both hands, but Alunya just leans backwards barely enough to avoid the strike, falling back on his right foot before shoving his weight forward and swinging overhead. The blow strikes Antares on his shoulder- it might have hurt, if Alunya hadn’t deliberately softened the blow once he saw it was going to land home.

Antares huffs in frustration while Alunya looks at him smugly, with a cheeky smile on his face. “Haha, first blood is mine!” Alunya pronounces, gesturing dramatically up at the sky, although Antares was obviously not bleeding. Antares places both hands on his stick again, narrowing his eyes. “Oh, now you’ve done it! Time to show you the pecking order around here!”Antares announces, swinging his ‘sword’ in an uppercut from right to left, moving it quickly with his wrist rather than swinging with his whole arm.

Alunya deftly ducks under the blow, but Antares follows up with another swing in the opposite direction, mostly horizontal to the ground but at a slight downward angle. Tucking in his legs, Alunya rolls backwards in a summersault, coming up quickly while Antares froze in surprise. Smugly, Alunya quickly settles back into his elaborate stance, while Antares shakes his head in frustration. How was Alunya able to move like that…?

Letting his passion get the better of his reason, Antares swings his stick in a wild flurry of blows intended to catch Alunya- First diagonally, which Alunya just barely manages to block, then a horizontal blow aiming at his head that probably would have done some real damage if Alunya hadn’t ducked under it. And finally, he pulls the stick back behind his head and swings it around with all his might, Alunya crashing his own stick into it at full speed at the same time. There was a resounding crack as they both met, and the sticks broke in half where they had collided, both pieces careening off into the underbrush, leaving the boys with just a short broken lump of wood.

Antares stumbles back and then falls down onto the ground, landing spreadeagle on his back in the leaves, panting heavily, while Alunya slumps down next to one of the trees nearby.

There is a long pause while the two of them catch their breath, before Alunya sits up and looks over at Antares, thoughtfully. “What does ‘En Garde’ Actually mean?”

Antares ponders it for a moment, before shrugging. “I dunno, I just remember it from one of mom’s stories.” There’s a long silence as Antares looks up at the sky, holding a hand over his eyes, before he sits up. “We should get going, who knows when Mom will get home. We don’t want her to know we were out.”

Alunya strides over to be above Antares and offers a hand down to him, smiling. “Aye-aye!”

Antares takes Alunya’s hand, grunting while he reaches his feet again. Looking at Alunya, he frowns slightly- Although he looked just as pretty as ever, Alunya was completely messy, covered in mud, bits of grass, and leaves.

Alunya cocks his head and looks back at Antares inquisitively. “Hm? What are you thinking about, Ant?” He asks, curiously.

“You’re all messy, if we go back like this then Mom will definitely know I let you run off into the forest…” Antares grimaces as he continues. “She might even keep us home during the festival as punishment.”

Alunya squeals in abject terror. “Whaaaat? But it’s the only day you have off!” Alunya protests, with his mouth agape and bright silvery eyes wide open.

Antares rubs the back of his head. “Why don’t we go down to the river and clean off? I could brush the leaves out of your hair, too.”

Now Antares was giving him trouble about his hair too!? “Not you toooo!” Alunya whines. Antares looks around the forest, as if embarrassed someone would have heard, as he hushes Alunya.

“But wouldn’t you rather I do it than Mom? I wont fuss over you as much, and you know she’ll freak out if she sees you like this.” Antares points out, hissing as though trying to keep his voice down. His motive wasn't exactly selfless; He didn’t want to wait while Reia messed with Alunya, either, plus it would hopefully keep Alunya settled for at least a little while.

Alunya puffs out a cheek, pouting, and crosses his arms, but relents. “Fineee…” He grumbles.


Alunya had well gotten over his mood by the time the two of them had reached the river, just a bit upstream from their home. Alunya moves to jump in immediately, but Antares quickly grabs his arm before he can. “Wait, you don’t want to walk home with soggy clothes, do you?” Antares asks, to which Alunya rolled his eyes up into his head thinking for a moment before shaking his head vigorously.

Antares strips his clothes off and lays them out on a dry rock a bit above the stream before testing the waters, while Alunya simply jumps right in with a whooping shout as soon as his clothes had been thrown into a disheveled pile on the ground. The river wasn’t very deep, but he was still far from full grown and so it was enough that he could get about clavicle-deep; Probably not safe to jump into, given the slippery and potentially sharp rocks, but Alunya seemed to get by alright.

Alunya looks back at shore, treading water. “What are you waiting for, Ant?” He calls out, leaning back in the water.

Antares gives him a sheepish look, standing just foot deep. “It’s cold!” Still, he was the one who suggested it in the first place, so after a long hesitation he wades down into the water. He definitely wouldn’t be staying there for long; Just enough to look at least a little bit tidy. Alunya was already down at the deepest part of the water, leaning back slightly with his feet just off the muddy riverbed so that he was treading water and not standing still.

Grabbing Antares’s arm, Alunya suddenly yanks him down into the deepest parts of the stream. Antares let out an earsplitting screech. “Ahhh! Coooold!”

Alunya just giggles. “C’mon, Ant! You gotta get in the water sometime!” He announces, cheerily, moving around in the water without any seeming effort. It was perhaps impressive that the boy was such a good swimmer, considering a lack of any proper training; Still, Antares felt nervous. Reia had told them not to go down to the river on their own, since they could drown.

Thankfully, at this time of year it was flowing pretty slowly, so it wasn't like he would get swept away, at least as long as they didn't go too far downriver. Taking a deep breath, Antares dunks his head into the water, shutting his eyes tightly as the cold shocks him, giving him an immediate headache.

As soon as he was sure he was thoroughly soaked, he bursts his head back out of the water and rubs his face to try and clean it. Alunya, of course, was doing nothing of the sort, instead just paddling around the river, diving and splashing back out of the water.

“Oy, Alunya, you’re not going to get clean just paddling around, you know.” Antares calls out. “C’mere, let me try and take care of all that grime.” Antares reaches over and, after getting Alunya to hold still, starts working on cleaning up his complexion.

Alunya’s skin was actually already relatively clear, but there was still a leaf stuck in his hair that hadn’t rinsed away easily, and some scraps of grass or mud were practically glued to his face. Antares reaches forwards and starts to rub away the grime with his thumbs, once again revealing Alunya’s rosy cheeks and cute, small nose.

Antares goes down Alunya’s delicate jawline and slender neck absentmindedly, continuing without thinking even after he’d gotten past the collar. The boy had narrow shoulders, and small trapezoidal muscles, making him even slighter than Antares’s already slight frame, and that blended evenly to his hips and waist. His whole torso was just about evenly wide, making his silhouette resemble a pole.

He really is quite pretty. Antares marvels, looking back up… To find Alunya’s bright, silvery eyes blinking up at him curiously. “Hmm? Antares, why’d you stop?” Alunya asks.

Antares blinks, startled from his reverie, realizing he had just stopped and was resting his hands on Alunya’s shoulders. Blushing fiercely, he jerks backwards. Just what had come over him? “I-I’m done.” he stammers out, embarrassed.

As Antares is distracted, Alunya’s curious expression is replaced with a mischievous smirk and he slips away, creeping around his brother before suddenly surprising him with a huge wave of water. Antares yelps from the cold as he is doused, closing his eyes as his hair drips icy water. When he opens them up again, he is met with Alunya’s smug smile, his face brightly shining in the midday sun.

Antares narrows his eyes competitively, and stealthily swirls his arms around under the water. After building up enough momentum, he hurls a wave of water back at his brother in retaliation, but Alunya simply dives down below the water before it can hit him, resurfacing a second later with a cheerful giggle and huge splash.

Antares' breath catches in his throat for just a moment, spellbound, as the droplets Alunya had thrown into the air caught the sunlight, perfectly sparkling in front of his delicate frame and radiant expression.

Dear Hylicia, I think my brother might be an angel.

Chapter II​

“Quiet, we have to dry off before Reia comes back inside!” Antares hisses to Alunya while they scoot up to the back of the hut. “You climb in first, I’ll follow!” Antares whisper-shouts, and Alunya nods affirmation- looking quite determined.

Alunya scrambles in through the window- Antares marvels at how easily he squeezes through, seemingly without any effort- and Antares follows suit, hauling himself up over the ledge and rolling down the other side to land on his feet, staggering slightly at the impact before standing upright again…

Only to be met with Reia staring him down, her arms crossed sternly. “Honestly, I can’t let you two out of my sight for one moment, can I?” Reia’s voice sounded disappointed, and Antares cringes away from her.

“Whose idea was this? And ugh, you’re soaking wet! Did you fall in the river?” Reia continues, putting on her lecturing voice.

“Mine!” Alunya and Antares both announce in unison. Antares glances over at Alunya in surprise, who was standing stock-upright with a very serious expression.

Reia sighs and places her head in her hand. “Ugh, well, no matter whose idea it was, you should know better, Antares. I told you I was counting on you to be mature and responsible. Honestly, if something happened to you, I’d…” She huffs. “Well, whatever. You two are sopping wet and getting water all over the floor. Go dry off by the fire. Once you’re dry, you’ll need to change into new clothes for the festival.” Reia instructs, in a tone which brooks no argument.

Alunya follows Antares as he mopily sits down by the fire. Alunya squeezes Antares’s hand reassuringly. “It’s ok, Ant, it was worth getting scolded to get to play with you.” Alunya murmurs quietly to his brother, quietly enough so that Reia couldn’t hear.

Reia struts across the room, thinking. “Honestly. Well if I can’t take my eyes off of you, and you’re going to be stuck by the fire while you dry off, you might as well make yourselves useful. I have to pack up the rest of the cuts of meat and throw out the offal, so you’re going to have to handle the cooking. Do you think you can manage that?”

Alunya salutes dutifully and nods. “Aye-aye!” He affirms. Antares gives a sigh of relief- It sounded like they were still going to be able to go to the festival. Besides, cooking might be a chore, but it was fun!

Before long, Antares gets the fire going, while Alunya places the ribs- all of the ribs- onto a grate and above the fire. Droplets of blood from the fresh meat dripped into the fire, sizzling away into smoke that smelled either nauseating or appetizing, depending on who you asked.

Prying open the satchel, Antares removes herbs they had gathered while out and about- Not just the tasty mushrooms, but wild herbs from the glades around the forest.

The two boys carefully watch the fire, while Reia watches them- interspersed with having to go briefly outside to properly store cuts of the goat which had been slaughtered. Soon enough, she had finished her task, the boys were drying off, and the meat was well on its way cooking. A bit of chiding aside- Making sure Alunya was careful and avoided being burned while moving the ribs to cook them more evenly- she left the boys to their work, the slightly tense mood gradually giving way.

While the boys wait for the meat to cook, Antares picks out the family’s brush and begins combing out Alunya’s hair, diligently working through the knots while Reia silently watches from the other side of the room. Alunya was being perfectly well behaved, letting Antares comb out his hair and make him presentable for the festival. “How does he get him to sit still..?” Reia idly wonders aloud to herself, shaking her head in amazement.

By the time the meat was nearing completion, Reia just couldn’t stay upset at them any longer- All washed up from their time in the river, and all dried out from being in front of the fire, and they had done such a good job with the ribs. Reia took a deep sniff of the fragrant scent of the meat- it smelled just about perfectly, despite being done by two boys with little experience or oversight.

“Alright, you two. Good job.” Reia says, perhaps just slightly begrudgingly. Alunya and Antares turn to face her, looking up at her. The two looked appropriately tidy for the festival that night, the only exception being the mess of their clothes- They were still dirty with grass and mud. Silently, Reia wonders just what the boys had gotten up to, that their clothes were dirty but their skin was so clear.

“Alright, you two. I have something for you.” Reia calls out after the ribs have been rotated. Alunya and Antares look up at her anxiously.

“...Yes, mama?” Alunya calls out first, a little worried.

Reia gives him a short, remorseful look. “I got something for you, and now is as good a time to give it to you as any, since your clothes are all messy.” Reia pronounces, setting a basket on the table.

Alunya and Antares peer in curiously as Reia removes a set of slightly-fancier-than-usual shirts and trousers, made of soft wool with a pattern embroidered around the trim. “I made it for you just for the festival! Go on, try it on!” Reia prompts, while Alunya looks at it agape.

“Really? Can I?” He hesitates as he touches the fabric. Normally, nice things like that were just for looking, not touching. Reia beams and nods at him encouragingly, so Alunya changes into the new clothes- Although on his first try, his head gets stuck in the neck of the shirt, and it's put on backwards, so Reia has to help him sort that out before he is finally wearing it correctly.

“Oh my, you look so cute!” Reia squeals as Alunya rubs his arms, as if in awe of the softness of his own clothes. Alunya looks down and around himself, trying to get a good look at himself, swishing the bottom hem of the shirt around as he moves. The clothes were a bit oversized- Probably a gambit to get them to fit him for longer.

“Um, Mom? What about me?” Antares asks, tugging on Reia’s tunic and looking up at her with wide eyes.

“Oh, Antares… Your outfit is messy too, huh?” Reia responds. “Don’t you worry, I have just the thing for you.” His mother disappears into the other room for a minute, and Antares can hear her digging through the clothes, before returning with a well made, but fairly worn out tunic, about the right size for him. “This belonged to your father when he was your age!” Reia was trying to sound excited, but there was an inevitable hint of bitterness or wistfulness in her voice while she said it.

Antares takes the tunic, frowning. “Um… Thanks…” He holds the outfit at some length, unsurely, before sighing and reluctantly putting it on.

“You look cute too, Ant!” Alunya beams up at his older brother, hugging his arm against their torso. Antares jerks away, blushing. I’m not that cute. Besides, you’re the one with the nice fancy outfit… Antares crosses their arms, puffing out one cheek.

Alunya frowns a little, cocking his head to the side. “Hm? What’s wrong, Ant?” He hesitates, seeing Antares recoiling.

“N-nothing, don’t worry about it. Come on, let’s go take the meat off the fire.” Antares brushes Alunya off.

“Let me get it.” Reia interrupts. “I’ll take it down to the festival grounds and make sure its placed appropriately. You two, wash your hands.” She gives them a stern look. “And, when I get back, I’d better not find that you two have run off again! If I find either of you have snuck out, there will be no festival for you this year, period.” She wags a finger, warning, before she skewers the two racks of ribs- one on top of the other- and leaves to head back down.

Not wanting to risk their special day- The first festival Alunya would see with their own two eyes- her two boys wait while she returns. She wasn’t gone for long, although, for her two excitable sons, it felt like a lifespan.

“Alright, boys! You both ready to go?” Reia asks as she opens the door again, spying inside to make sure both her boys are present- and not dirtied up from being outside again. Alunya and Antares line up, nodding eagerly, so Reia takes their hands in hers and begins heading down.

(Author note: I can't figure out a good chapter title for this chapter! Someone help me figure out what to call it, if you have any suggestions please DM me with them.)

Chapter III: The Festival​

They lived pretty far from the village center, far enough away that there wasn't really a clear pattern to the buildings scattered about, but as they descended the village became more organized, consisting of concentric rings of terraces around a large central plaza. Rock-hewn houses and cyclopean walls stood over the terraces, in between small stretches of farms. The empty houses were dark, their fireplaces all put out while the center of the village was filled with torchlight.

As usual whenever Reia went out, she attracted some askance glances- Alunya was blissfully unaware, as he chatted on endlessly about something or another while Reia simply nodded, but Antares noticed and stares back as they passed more and more people the closer they were to the center.

The plaza itself was where the festival was, of course; Illuminated by torchlight, stalls and tables had been set up around the outside with a small crowd having already gathered, as a few dutiful souls rush around the big tables that had been set up near the center for the feast later that night, around the raging bonfire and below the massive plinth upon which stands a huge statue of the divine protector of the village, Hylicia.

Alunya gazes up at the monumental structure with an awed murmur. It was made of some shiny material that looked a bit like the copper they used for some tools, but brighter and less saturated, almost more like the color of his hair. It could easily be mistaken as abstract art if one didn’t know what it really was, with long tendrils and coils coming out from a peculiarly shaped object towards the middle, giving the impression almost of a gigantic butterfly with massive wings and an elongated tail. He always wondered how it didn’t fall over, it looked so top-heavy with only a single long coil connecting it to the ground.

Right now, the monument was festooned in small lanterns, one from each family, mostly on the edges of the plinth or on top of the statue’s tail, but some adventurous souls had climbed up the statue and placed them higher up.

All around that monument people had set up tables and games. Some villagers were gathered around a game where someone reorganized cups and they tried to guess under which one was a small medallion, elsewhere some men were engaged in a drinking contest, and over near where Alunya was a group was playing a game with throwing disks around flags.

Alunya’s eyes light up as he looks around; He had never been to one of the festivals before, although he had been born on the day of the festival in spring eight years ago, meaning he was precisely eight and a half now. Bobbing and weaving through the crowd, he runs to the disk game, excitedly.

“Lemme play, lemme play!” Alunya announces his presence, jumping up and down to make sure they see him. The one who was currently throwing disks, a muscular black-haired man who did most of the copperwork around the village named Gatrick, turned to look at Alunya.

“Oh, and just who is it?” Gatrick kneels down to look at Alunya, narrowing his eyes as he recognizes the child, though Alunya didn’t notice. “Ah, Reia’s bastard. Where’s your mother, kid?”

Alunya shrugs. “I’ll go find her later, but I wanna play first!” He states sunnily.

Gatrick looks to his fellows, who all shrug. Gatrick shrugs back, and hands the disk to Alunya before pointing at the furthest peg, which had no disks around it. “See that peg over there? Try and aim for that.” He glances back up at his companions, who snicker a little- Obviously he had given the child the hardest one to aim for, probably hoping he would get discouraged and move along quickly.

Alunya takes the disk and focuses in, half-crouching down as he measures up his shot, looking intensely focused with the tip of his tongue just poking out on one side of his mouth. Finally, he hurls the disk, letting it fly in a long arc, spinning as it traveled up in the air some distance diagonally from the ground before spinning in flight and catching right on the peg.

Gatrick blinks at him, stunned, while Alunya just beams up at him. “...Beginner’s luck, let’s see if you can do it again.” Gatrick brushes it off, handing another disk to Alunya, who nods eagerly.

“Roger!” Alunya takes the disk and flips it over in his hands, backing up a bit and measuring his aim again, this time reversing his hands so he was holding it with his left. As a result, when he releases his throw it it spins up on the other side, flying over the river that cuts through the side of the plaza before hurtling back down. For a brief moment, it looks like it might miss the peg, but it just barely snags it, bouncing back and down around it. Alunya pumps his fist and jumps up, excitedly, turning to Gatrick. “There! I got it, did you see?”

Gatrick responds with considerably less enthusiasm, glaring suspiciously at him. Sullenly, he stalks out over to the pegs, uproots the last one, walks up on top of the terrace and places it firmly there. “Now try!” He barks, his tone getting progressively more aggressive.

Alunya nods, oblivious to anything other than the game, and reaches down to pick up one of the last disks. Alunya places his feet out in a balanced stance and focuses intensely, holding his arm back ready to throw, and then hurls the disk through the air. Surely enough, the disk soars through the air and catches once more on the peg.

Gatrick blinks and rubs his eyes in disbelief. “How did you…?” He mumbles, while his fellows snicker at him. “Must have cheated somehow… Apple doesn’t fall far from the tree after all…” He mutters, half sullen and half dazed.

Alunya beams up at him, waiting for another disk, but Gatrick just shakes his head. “Alright, kid, you won. Congratulations. Now scram.”

Alunya frowns, crossing his arms. “Huh? But I wanted to keep playing-”

“-Alunya, there you are!” Reia’s voice comes from behind, sounding exasperated, with Antares following behind. “Honestly, I take my eyes off of you for a moment, and you’ve already run off…”

Alunya whirls around, smiling up at her. “I just saw this game and it looked fun! Oh-” He is suddenly cut off when Reia whisks him off his feet, and he giggles, hugging her around her shoulders as she looks at Gatrick, who grimaces at her and turns away.

“Keep your bastard to yourself next time.” He growls out. Reia clenches her jaw, digging her fingers into Alunya’s back as she tenses up, warranting a protest from the young boy.

“He’s not a bastard, and he has a name.” Reia says, tersely, walking away without another word. Antares gives an askance look backwards before following her, concerned. It wasn't usual to see her like that.

Reia carries Alunya back down in front of the statue and sets him down, sighing loudly. “Honestly, the nerve… And right in front of Alunya, too…” She murmurs, absentmindedly.

“Mom, what was that man talking about?” Antares asks, tugging on her skirt. Reia ruffles his hair.

“Nothing, sweetie, don’t worry about it.” Despite her words, Reia looks quite upset. Antares frowns at her, concerned. Even if he didn’t understand, he could tell something was off.

Reia takes Alunya’s hand and forces a smile. “C’mon, why don’t we go see what else the festival has to offer?” Alunya nods eagerly, and skips along after Reia. Antares hesitates, gives a look back at the disk throwing contest, then shouts “Wait up!”, rushing to catch them.


The trio poke around the festival grounds, staring out at all the sights. It was a little shocking how many people there were, since in a village with only a few hundred people it was rare to see more than a handful in one place outside of times like this. People were sitting on a blanket playing a dice game, or chattering eagerly to each other about the latest gossip. Some were just sitting out on the higher terraces enjoying the atmosphere, or showing off their crafts and work. Antares spots Gatrick, no longer playing games, but instead showing off some of his jewelry as some of the younger women from the village “Ooh” and “Ahh” over it.

But none of that took Antares’s attention like the games and competitions. Grabbing Reia’s free hand and pulling on it, he points over to where some boys had cleared an alley between two houses for throwing javelins. “Mom, can we go there?” Antares asks, doing his best to mimic Alunya and give wide doe eyes.

Reia turns back around to look at what he was pointing at, biting her lip unsurely. “Doesn't that look a bit dangerous? I don’t want to see you get hurt.”

“Wouldn’t it be good practice for hunting, though?” Antares asks, hopefully. “I haven’t gotten a chance to try!”

Reia looks away, guiltily. Normally, a boy’s father would have taken him hunting by now, but since she needed his help to provide for the family he hadn’t had a chance. “I don’t know…”

“Aw, that’s no fun! I wanna go too!” Alunya pipes up on the other side, bouncing in place.

Reia sighs and holds her arms up. “Alright, alright! I can see I’m outvoted.”


Alunya runs up to the edge of the terrace and climbs up the stone wall, while Antares runs around. “We wanna try!” Alunya announces their presence cheerfully. One of the older boys turns around, looking the two of them up and down, and Alunya smiles up at them confidently.

“Sure, I guess. Keit and Vekt have to finish their turns, first, though.” He says, narrowing his eyes slightly as he studies their features. He’d seen Antares before, though he didn’t know his name, but Alunya was a new sight. Young compared to the rest of them, but that didn’t matter too much.

“14 meters!” One of the boys calls out, signaling how far the javelin throw had gotten. Alunya watches with keen interest, as the boy pulls the latest javelin out of the ground and jogs back to return it to the pile. They had set up little markers at regular intervals to help them estimate how far they were throwing.

Another boy takes up his spot , picking out three javelins from the pile, and Alunya sits down cross legged on the path to watch, resting his head on one palm, while the boy ran and threw the javelins one by one, with another boy running up to check the distance and returning the javelin.

“11 meters!” They call out on the last throw, and the boy looks down, sheepishly, at his poor performance. He tosses the javelins to Antares. “Here, kid, knock yourself out.” He mumbles, as he walks off away from the proceedings in frustration.

Alunya perks up now that Antares was throwing, and stands up. Just as Antares had gotten to the line drawn in the dirt to show where to throw from, Alunya claps loudly. “You can do it, big bro!” He cheers loudly, raising his voice enough that it could be heard over the rest of the festival sounds. Antares’s cheeks flush red as he looks back at Alunya, then away again, trying to act as if he didn’t know him.

“Ant-Ar-Es! Ant-Ar-Es!” Alunya chants, while Antares’s blush progressively gets fiercer until it reaches his ears. Trying to ignore Alunya, Antares runs up to the throwing point and hurls the javelin. It flies straight for a moment, then wobbles in the air, and comes down to the ground some distance away.

“12 meters!” The runner announces, and Alunya cheers, clapping over his head while Antares turns to face away, burying his face in his hands. Alunya looks around, wondering why nobody else was cheering- Sure, it wasn't as much as some of the older boys, but it was really good for how old his big brother was, right?

But, maybe Alunya was just distracting him, so Alunya with some effort silenced himself and just watched on eagerly for Antares’ next attempt. Before he could, though, he hears the familiar gait of his mother behind him, and turns around to see Reia walking over with a tired expression.

“Hylicia, you two boys are fast.” Reia complains. “Are the other boys being nice to you? Where’s Antares?”

Alunya nods, and was about to point out Antares when he heard “11 meters!” and he whips back around to look at where Antares’s javelin had fallen. “Aw, mooom! You made me miss him! He’s right up there throwing right now!”

“Oh, I’m sorry. Don’t let me get in your way.” Reia gives a mellow smile and stands by, watching.

“Ant-ar-es! Ant-ar-es!” Alunya resumes chanting, before elbowing his mother. “C’mon, you cheer too!”

Reia gives Alunya a doting smile and gets caught up in his excitement, cupping her hands around her mouth and shouting “You can do it, Antares!”

Antares blushes uncontrollably, looking away. Alunya giggles, amused at how embarrassed his brother was, and only cheers louder.

“Hey, are you going to throw or not?” One of the boys calls out from the sidelines. Antares sighs, shoots a mortified look over at Alunya and Reia, and then takes a deep breath before charging the line and hurling the javelin with all his strength. The sharpened stick hurtles through the air, before curving and falling down to the ground at a sharp angle.

“13 meters!” The runner announces. Antares beams excitedly and then looks around, only to be met with a rather apathetic audience just watching nonchalantly; Except for Alunya of course, who beams up at him proudly.

Alunya sprints up and tackles Antares, making the older boy stumble in place with an “oof.” Alunya glows with pride as he hugs his embarrassed brother. “You’re amazing, Ant!” he praises. “You were like, woah, then threw it so far!” Alunya gushes, while Antares tries to wriggle out of his grip, shooting mortified looks at all the bystanders.

Finally releasing Antares, Alunya grabs one of his javelins. “Alright, my turn now! Watch me, Ant!”

“...Can you stop calling me that? It sounds demeaning, like I’m a bug…” Antares hisses out, rubbing his arms self-consciously.

Alunya blinks up at Antares. “Oh, sorry. Uhm… Ares, then?”

“By Hylicia, stop with your drama and throw already!” One of the boys shouts, and Antares puts his head down, shifting off to the side to let Alunya worry about throwing. Alunya cocks his head at him as he leaves, but shrugs and takes up the javelin. It was a bit large and cumbersome in their hands, and they were probably too young to really even throw a javelin properly, but once they got a good running start, they hurl the javelin with all their might, and it sails straight through the air, parallel to the ground, before clattering against the cobblestone.

“13 meters!” the runner announces.

Antares flinches. Already, Alunya had thrown just as well as his best attempt? He was still younger and smaller than him, not to mention less athletic… How did he already throw that well? It just didn’t make any sense.

Alunya beams over at Antares and waves at him. “Did you see that, an- uhm, Ares?” He giggles as he uses his foot to launch one of the javelins up into the air and grab it. Before the older boys could complain about him wasting time, he jogs up and throws again.

“12 meters!” The runner announced, looking at Alunya with an approving expression and a thumbs up. The older boys were interested now, and Alunya beams at all of them, proudly, gloating. Sure, it wasn’t an incredibly standout performance, but considering how delicate and young he looked, it was quite impressive.

Reia, of course, was also cheering loudly, clapping delightedly with an elated expression. The only one who didn’t look particularly interested was Antares, who had hid behind a building as if embarrassed to be seen near Alunya.

Alunya picks up their last javelin and skips back to their place, prancing forward and hurling the projectile once more. This time, it flew up higher and then came back down at a high angle, landing just a bit before the previous javelins. “12 meters!” the runner calls out as he retrieves the javelins. “My turn!”

Alunya crosses his arms, proudly, and looks up smugly, before turning around and running off to find Antares. “Hey! Hey, big bro! Did you see? Did you see?” He chatters at him, before Reia pulls him away.

“Come on, Alunya, I think Antares needs a bit of a rest.” Reia says, looking over at the older boy cringing in embarrassment.

Alunya pouts and crosses his arms. “Awww…” He let out, while Antares gave Reia a thankful look.


The boys continue cycling between javelin throws, although Alunya gets tired of sitting still and starts serving as the runner announcing the distance. That is, until Reia calls out to them.

“Alunya, Antares! C’mon, the feast will start soon and there’s something we have to do first.” Reia announces.

Alunya looks over at her with a frown. “Awww! Can’t we go a little bit longer?”

Reia looks back towards the center doubtfully. “...I don’t know if there’s time, the feast won’t be in too long. But alright.”

Reia let them go on a single other round of javelin throwing, and then- despite Alunya’s protest- takes them both back down to the monument in the center of the village, where the preparations for the feast were almost all done- Tables had been covered in food, which Alunya stared at salivating before being pulled along by Reia. “Don’t worry, my little ‘lunya. It’ll be time to eat soon enough. Here, I have something for you.” She offers the satchel to Alunya, who looks at it curiously as he opens it up and then withdraws a small lantern hanging by a cord. Alunya looks up at Reia, both excited and a little confused.

“Go on! You can place the family's lantern on the monument this year!” Reia cheers, and Alunya’s eyes widen in excitement.

“Really? Me?” Alunya asks in an awed tone. Reia nods, and with an unsure look back, Alunya scampers off to the statue.

But instead of placing it near the base like Reia had planned, he immediately scurries straight up the statue, pulling himself up by every nook and cranny while Reia went white in sudden fear.

“A-Alunya!” She shouts out, “Get down from there!”

But Alunya was already on the way up, and couldn’t be stopped now. He leaps up to a higher handhold, one of the ‘tendrils’ that came off from the central orb, pulling himself up to stand precariously on top of it. Looking down at his mother from above, he wonders what has her all worked up, but just shrugs it off; He could figure that out after he had finished placing the lantern!

So, once he reaches the top of the statue, he places the lantern, haphazardly balanced way up on top of the orb itself, before scurrying back down the statue head-first, pausing near the bottom before hopping to the ground while Reia rushes over to him.

“By Hylicia, Alunya, never scare me like that again!” Reia scolds, giving out a hefty sigh and shaking her head. “I can’t believe you just did that…”

Alunya frowns, confused, and looks up at Reia. “Huh? What did I do wrong?” He squeaks out in a sad voice.

“I meant just place the lantern on the base, I didn’t mean for you to put yourself in such danger! If you fell, I’d never be able to forgive myself!” Reia scolds again, wrapping her arms tightly around Alunya protectively.

“Mom- stop- can’t- breathe-” Alunya squeezes out, and Reia lets him go reluctantly, and he takes a deep breath in.

“Never do something like that again, ok?” Reia continues.

“Um, yeah, ok…” Alunya mumbles, looking down at his feet. He still didn’t really get what he’d done wrong, but he didn’t like being lectured like that.

But before Reia could continue her tirade, they were cut off by the ringing of a bell. Alunya perks up immediately, jumping up. “Yay! Feast time! Feast time!”

Reia looks frustrated, but relents after a worried look at Alunya, and takes her two boys’ hands in hers as she walks toward the tables where the food is piled up.

Chapter IV: The Feast​

Reia and her sons are quick to the buffet line, given that they were already standing near the middle of the festival grounds, but even so a small crowd has already gathered. Alunya hops from foot to foot, impatiently, looking around the festival grounds. Just then, he spots Yuvia, one of the family's neighbors, already with a full plate of food- she must have started dishing it up before the feast bell even rang, allowing her to beat the crowds.

And of more interest to Alunya, on her plate was a helping of goat ribs. Without warning, Alunya takes off to go see them. “Alunya!” Reia calls, but Alunya was already gone. “Ugh... Antares, can you go fetch him? I need to keep our place in the line.” Reia asks. Antares looks over at Alunya, nods, and heads off.

“So? So so so? What do you think of the ribs?” Alunya asks, beaming up at Yuvia with an eager expression.

“Huh? Um, they’re about as good as they can be considering how old the animal was, I guess.” Yuvia replies, clearly a bit confused as they pause in their eating.

Alunya beams up at her even more, leaning forwards against the table. “I made it! Mommy was busy with packing up the other meat so I got to cook the ribs! Did I do a good job?” Alunya prompts.

“Oh, you did, huh?” Yuvia smiles at the boy. “Well then, yes, you did a very good job.” Yuvia wipes off her hands, before reaching forward to gently pat Alunya’s head. “What a good boy, already helping your mother with chores at such a young age.” Alunya giggles in response and leans into Yuvia’s hand.

By now Antares had caught up, and listened in on the end of the conversation. “Um, I helped too!” Antares offered. “I helped slaughter the goat and roast the ribs...” Antares leans forward, a little bashfully- lowering his head slightly to put it in Yuvia’s reach.

But before there could be any response, Vekt- Yuvia’s son, a boy two years older than Antares, only very slightly taller but significantly broader in build- snickers at him. “Oh, great job, Ant. I’m sure you’ll make a fine mother one day.”

Antares blinks at him in confusion, taken aback. “Wh-whuh?”

“Guess that’s what happens when a boy doesn’t have a father. You get to do all the girl’s chores.” Vekt teases, before being interrupted by Yuvia.

“Vekt!” Yuvia frowns, narrowing her eyes at him. “Be nice! What an awful thing to say to someone.”

“But, dad says-“ Vekt starts, before Yuvia covers his mouth.

“I don’t care what dad says, he isn’t here right now.” Yuvia states, looking mortified. “I expect better of you.” Yuvia sighs, turning her attention to the two boys “I’m sorry, both of you. You should go get back to your mother. I’ll talk to Vekt.”

Antares cringes, embarrassed, and takes Alunya’s hand. “C’mon, Alunya, you have to stop running off. Mom sent me to collect you.” This triggered a fresh fit of snickering from Vekt, and Antares storms away, red up to his ears, dragging Alunya with him.

“Ant!” Alunya complains. “C’mon, wait up!” Alunya jogs to keep up with Antares’s fast walking pace. “What’s it matter what Vekt says? We did a great job on the ribs!” Alunya puffs out his chest, proudly. But Antares just shakes his head, and dully states “Let’s just go meet up with Mom.”

After navigating the crowd of people around the buffet tables, Alunya and Antares manage to meet up with their mother- just in time to start dishing up their own food, after Reia hands them both their plates. The diversity of food is shocking to the two boys, who usually lived almost exclusively on cornmeal and potatoes- There was yam’s, cornbread, berries, cheese, dishes made of some mixture of various cooked vegetables together, and of course, meat! Alunya made sure to get a nice big rib from their goat- Antares, on the other hand, avoided it.

Soon enough, the family of three was marching along its way back to the tables. The placement of everyone’s tables mirrored the placement of their homes, so Reia’s was positioned far towards the outskirts, with only Yuvia and a couple other families nearby. Antares avoided looking at Vekt while he passed by their table- Vekt stuck his tongue out at him, and Alunya glares over at him.

“Antares, come on!” Alunya prods while he sits down with his brother, on the far side from his mother- edging up right next to him. “You shouldn’t let him get to you! Mom says they’re just jealous!”

“Yeah, jealous of not having a father. How enviable.” Antares mumble-replies sarcastically.

Reia leans over to look at her two boys, frowning. “What are you two talking about? Whose jealous of who?”

Alunya puffs out his chest, looking proud. “I was showing off our cooking, but some boy was-“

“We don’t have to talk about that.” Antares hastily cut Alunya off, squirming.

Alunya frowns and stops, but Reia crosses her arms. “...Well? What did he say?”

Alunya shakes his head. “If Ares doesn’t want me to say, I guess I can’t say.” he mumbles, stubbornly.

Reia groans in frustration and sighs. “Honestly, you two...”

There’s a long moment of silence, before Antares pipes up. “Can I eat yet..?”

“Not yet, honey, not until the sacrifice is done.”

As if right on cue, a bell sounds from the middle of the festival grounds, drawing everyone's attention to the plinth above the bonfire, where the high priest of the village- A withered man named Ralic- was standing before the statue of Hylicia. A few parents silenced their children’s chatter- The need for keeping children silent being the main reason Alunya hadn’t ever been allowed at the festival before now.

“We stand here on this joyous occasion, on the 1593rd anniversary since Hylicia took us under her protection. As ever, we offer our thanks for our salvation and protection, by means of sacrifice!” Rallic gestured, and a yak was carried forward on a palanquin by a squadron of children- Older than Antares, older than Vekt even, but still children nonetheless. The yak- sedated by some herbal mixture- was placed before the old priest.

With a broad gesture, the priest draws a long blade- One with an oddly bright sheen, more resembling the metal of the statue in the center than the copper seen by the rest of the village. Alunya gasps as he saw it, eyes wide open. The blade was longer than any knife, this could only be....

“With the sword of our ancestor, noble Talith, I offer this sacrifice to you, Hylicia!” Swiftly, Rallic put the blade against the throat of the yak, and cut- The cry of the yak was cut off almost as abruptly as it started, the blood trailing down into the ground beneath the statue. Then, the yak is placed- somewhat ungracefully- into the bonfire. As the flame catches at its hide, Alunya could swear that the statue glimmered.

“Eat now, while I tell you a tale of our noble ancestor, back in our ancient past, before our people found our great protector...” The priest starts. What follows is a long story, barely audible over the sounds of eating and crackling of the bonfire, telling of the adventures of that ancient hero in foreign lands- Of the journeys of the villagers, of the hardships they faced in the wider world. Alunya and Antares paid rapt attention, despite missing just about every other word.

“Mommy, when will I get to go out on adventures just like Talith? Maybe I’ll get to fight a dragon!” Alunya asks Reia, tugging on her sleeve from across Antares with his eyes shining.

“Oh, sweetie. We don’t need to go on adventures anymore! We have Hylicia to protect us. As long as we stay here, we’ll always be safe.” Reia says, in a tone meant to sound reassuring- But Alunya only visibly wilts, crossing his arms across his chest and pouting.

“Quiet, you two, I’m trying to listen to the story!” Antares interrupts, as he stuffs his face with another bite of vegetable-stuffed cornbread.

The three of them settle into silence at Antares’s urging, and eventually the story finishes, along with the meal. Reia takes up place on the other side of the table, and begins socializing with her neighbors, including Yuvia. Most of it is dreadfully boring to the two boys- Talk of crop yields, of the almost certainly exaggerated size of the biggest fish another family caught, gossip and rumors from around the village.

“My husband swears he saw something in the forest out back behind the pastures. Something big, black, and flying.” One of the women gossiped, in a hushed tone. Alunya’s ears started straining to pick up- This was something interesting, now!

“Oh, I’m sure it was just a big raven or something. Nothing worse than that gets past Hylicia’s barrier. We’re all safe in this village.” Yuvia responds.

The first gossiper glances over at Alunya- flinching away once she saw he was staring back at her. “Then how do you explain Him?” She gestures. “That hair and eyes of his aren’t natural. And look what he did to his brother!” Reia scoots in front of Alunya, shielding him from vision. But at the mention of him, Antares’s attention was caught as well, and he glances over at the group of women, furrowing his brow in confusion. What did they mean by that..?

“He just was born... Special. If there was something wrong with him, Hylicia wouldn’t have let him be born, would they have?” Reia says protectively. “Maybe it’s a blessing.”

The other women scoff, rolling their eyes. “More like a stigmata for a sinner...”

Reia clenches her jaw further and glares at the other women. “I told you already, he’s not a bastard.”

“If you’re not having an affair, then why won’t you just get remarried? Are you scared having a man around would make your girl’s act properly? I know you’re teaching them to cook, and just look at Alunya’s hair. It’s like you’re trying to raise daughters instead of sons.”

“I’ve tried to cut it, but he always struggles too much and I don’t want to cut him.” Reia replies, defensively. “Besides, it’s none of your business-“

Reia is cut off by Alunya himself climbing up onto the table, placing his hands on his hips and glaring down at the other women fiercely- as young as he was, even he towered over everyone else when he stood up on the table. “I keep my hair nice and long myself, and mom has nothing to do with my cooking! I just wanted to help!”

Reia looks like she’s about to die, as she goes stark red and stands up, removing Alunya from the table. “Alunya, please stop, you’re embarrassing me.” The other women freeze in stark discomfort, but Alunya doesn’t go, instead crossing his arms and putting on a surprisingly fierce look for such a young child.

“No! What’s so wrong with helping you cook? Someone has to do it!” Alunya pronounces, putting his chin up in the air. Both Antares and Reia look mortified, but Alunya wouldn’t back down. “And I like my hair! Antares told me it looks cute and pretty while he helped me brush it! Didn’t you, Ares?” Alunya calls out, but Antares was busy hiding his face and cringing.

The women look down at the young boy before bursting out in laughter. Alunya clenches his fist, but before he can do anything more Reia picks him up. “Come on, Antares, feast’s over, we’re going home.” Reia pronounces. Antares needs no further prompting- eager to escape further embarrassment, he runs along after Reia while Alunya sticks his tongue out at the group behind them.

It was a fine enough time to leave, anyways- The bonfire was dying down and several others had already started leaving. Besides, the last ones there were the ones stuck with cleaning up the mess.

“Hylicia, Alunya, don’t interrupt me when I’m talking with other adults.” Reia pronounces, highly annoyed.

“Huh? You were talking about me, though!” He squeals out, as Reia sets him back down on the ground and takes his hand, walking quickly back towards home.

Reia shakes her head. “You didn’t help. I had it handled, you just embarrassed us all.” Reia lectures. Alunya stops in their tracks, pulling their hand out of Reia’s.

“That’s no fair! I was just standing up for me and Ares!” Alunya protests.

Antares shakes his head. “No, Reia’s right… Please don’t do that again, Alunya.” Antares sounds mortified. Alunya stares at the two of them agape with a betrayed expression.

“Ugh, I’ll deal with this in the morning. For now, both of you to your rooms. It's late.” Reia says, tersely. Alunya casts a look to the side and grumbles, but it was indeed late- And even Alunya was somewhat tired after all the escapades of that day. So somewhat reluctantly, Alunya traipses off to his room, climbing up to the top bunk and laying down on his side.

I don’t really see what I did wrong… Alunya thinks to himself. Reia was gone to bed now and the door was shut- Alunya was a little tempted to go see if Antares was still awake, but he could hear from the breathing pattern that Antares was already asleep, worn out from the exciting day.

And so, despite all the fun that had been had that day, and all the good memories he had made, that day ended on a sour note for Alunya as he faded into sleep.

authors note: Yo, out of curiosity, is anyone actually reading this? Legitimately curious.

Chapter V: Winter​

The next day, and indeed the next weeks, were quite the bore for Alunya. Antares was back to doing chores- Harvest season wasn’t over yet, after all, and the older boy- as the oldest male in the household- would be quite busy, leaving his little brother once again without his playmate.

It wasn’t all boredom for the younger boy though; He was getting old enough now that Reia would start putting him to work, and he would help scrub dishes, make meals, and even mend clothes, freeing up Reia to spend more time tending to their plot of crops and putting food on the table. It wasn’t play, of course, but at least Alunya got to feel helpful; Besides, if there was one thing Alunya wasn’t, it was “lazy”. He put his all into every task, whether it was for fun or just work that needed to be done.

But it wasn’t long- Even though it felt like an eternity to Alunya- before the harvest season tapered off. With less work to be done, Antares had more free time once again, and Alunya could spend time with him. The changing of seasons could be felt first by a chill breeze in the air, and then…

“Snow!” Antares exclaims, rolling out of bed with renewed energy. He’d had enough rest by now to stop feeling sore from all the labor he had had to do last season, and was ready for the new season. “Alunya, wake up! It's snowing!”

Alunya blinks and rubs his eyes sleepily as he sits up, but all semblance of tiredness vanishes as soon as he sees the blanket of white covering the ground outside. He springs up and rolls out of his bed… On the top bunk. Antares yelps in fear as his brother falls from the top bunk, and without even thinking, Antares dives down and reaches his arms out, catching Alunya as he lands with a heavy thud right into Antares’s open arms.

“A-Alunya! Be careful!” Antares scolds as he sets Alunya down gingerly. “Gosh, sometimes I wonder how you haven't broken every bone in your body…”

“It’s alright, I knew you would catch me!” Alunya replies smugly, dusting himself off before racing over to the window. “Woaaah, there’s so much already this year! C’mon, let's go play outside!”

“Not so fast, you two!” Reia chides from the doorway where she had appeared, evidently attracted by the ruckus. “Neither of you are going anywhere till you’re properly dressed and finished your breakfast!”


Breakfast was a much less extravagant affair than during the harvest festival; The perishable leftovers from the festival were all used up by now, and while there was salted meat from the old goat leftover from the festival, that was a rare treat that Reia was trying to make last. That left just freeze-dried yams and cornmeal, the typical staples of the village, for breakfast.

Despite that, the brothers still eat with gusto, if for no other reason than because they want to get outside before the snow lets up. Fortunately for them, and unfortunately for most everyone else, the snow shows no sign of letting up; It was quite an impressive first snowfall of the year.

As soon as they finish eating, Reia has the two of them bundle up in the warmest clothes they have lying around- a thick wool tunic and trousers, Alunya additionally wearing a cap with ear flaps while Antares had to settle for a simpler hat that just wrapped around the ears.

Alunya races outside into the snow, feeling it crunch under his feet as he runs around, almost slipping but managing to stay upright. When it's snowing, even just being outside is fun! He holds out his tongue, hoping to catch a snowflake…

…And instead catches a snowball in his face, the cold powdery ball coming undone as soon as it strikes him, leaving him with a mouthful of snow which he promptly spits out, rubbing his face clear and whirling around to see Antares already packing another snowball, a teasing expression on his face.

“Got you!” Antares proclaims. Alunya narrows his eyes and when Antares lets loose his next ball, Alunya dives out of the way to the side, rolling in the snow and getting fine snow clinging to his whole body as a result. The fine-grained snow cushions the motion, making it easier to roll without hurting himself. As he rolls, he scoops up a handful of snow and flings it at Antares; It was not properly packed, and mostly just scatters in midair, but some of the snow still lands home as Antares brings his hands up over his face to shield himself.

“You got more snow on you from dodging than you would have if I just hit you, you know.” Antares teases dryly, as he runs back behind the side of the building where he could pack his snowball in peace.

Alunya takes advantage of the reprieve to grab a big handful of snow and pack it together. “It’s the principle of it, Ares! You don't just let your opponent hit you!” Alunya calls back, holding the snowball back and ready for when Antares finally comes out. Antares glances out from cover for just a split second to hurl his own at Alunya, and Alunya fires back, but by the time the snowball reaches Antares’s position, Antares had already ducked back under cover, while Alunya got another mouthful of snow for his trouble.

“Alas, I’ve been stricken down!” Alunya bemoans, reaching his hand out for the heavens before falling onto his back dramatically, sticking out his tongue and closing his eyes to mimic being dead. Antares peeks out from cover.

“Aw, I didn't hit you that hard!” Antares protests, as he leaves his hiding spot. Alunya spies one eye open, smirking a little.

“True!” He suddenly slams his hands together over his head, collecting another snowball, sitting up and hurling the snowball in one motion. Antares, startled, was unable to react before he got a massive ball of snow right in the face and fell back, though Alunya wasn't sure if he had actually struck him harder than he had meant to or if Antares was just playing it up like Alunya had.

“Woe betide, I have been brought low by my perfidious foe!” Antares laments, while Alunya stands up and strides over to where Antares was, offering a hand. Antares accepts it and pulls himself up, shivering.

“It's not per… Perfidi…” Alunya struggles with the word before giving up and just shaking his head. “It's just called being cunning! Like a good hunter!”

Antares rolls his eyes. “Uh-huh, sure.” He sticks out his tongue at Alunya and pulls down on his eyelid.

Alunya narrows his eyes competitively. “Oh, now you’re asking for it!” Turning around, he digs his feet into the gaps between the stones on their house and climbs up onto the roof- a probably altogether awful idea, considering how slippery it was, but he manages to get up alright. “All hail Alunya, lord of snow!” Alunya proclaims, plopping down on top of the dome shaped roof and gathering a great ball of snow, hurling it down at Antares from on high.

Antares yelps and holds his hands up to shield his face, looking around for cover, but Alunya’s high vantage means it’s harder to evade him. Alunya bombards Antares with snowball after snowball from the snow up on the roof, and Antares starts ducking and weaving trying to evade them. His first attempt at a retaliation went far awry- it was somewhat harder to aim upwards like that.

But he was nothing if not tenacious, so after narrowly avoiding one of Alunya’s rapid fire attacks, with a more tightly packed snowball than before, he let fly another projectile. “I, Noble Antares, will free the snow from the tyranny of Alunya!” Antares postures loudly.

The snowball strikes Alunya right smack in the middle of his chest. Whether it was the impact of the snow, or just Alunya’s typical overplaying of impact, the boy falls back- onto the loosely packed snow on the roof, causing a miniature avalanche as he slides off the roof backwards, shouting as he did.

“A-Alunya!?” Antares panics, racing around the building to find Alunya on the other side, nearly completely buried in a big pile of snow which had fallen off the roof along with him.

Alunya spits out snow and pops his head out of the snow, blinking as he looks around. Lucky me, if it wasn't for all this snow that could have really hurt! As it was, he was fine other than a slightly bruised shoulder. Alunya blinks, still dazed, while Antares hurries to start digging him out of the snow.

“Are you alright, ‘Lunya?” Antares asks, concern clear on his face. Alunya smiles back and jumps up onto Antares, knocking his older brother prone as they fall back on the snow together.

“Never better!” Alunya pronounces brightly as he rolls around in the snow, dragging Antares with him.

Antares gives a relieved sigh, and holds Alunya tightly. “Good…” He shuts his eyes tightly, squeezing Alunya before repeating “Good.”

With his head back against the ground, Antares’s snowy white hair blends in perfectly with the background, intermixing with Alunya’s own, as Alunya giggles softly and rubs his cheek up against his brother’s affectionately. Though Antares’s soft skin was cold to the touch after being pelted by so many snowballs, Alunya could still feel it heat up as his brother blushed.

But despite his embarrassment, Antares doesn’t push Alunya away and hugs him back gingerly, wrapping both arms around Alunya’s waist. Alunya squeals happily. D’aww, he’s reciprocating! I should fall off of rooftops more often, Ares is so cute when he’s worried about me.

The moment was interrupted by Reia coming around the corner. “Alunya, are you alright? I heard a crash!” Reia frets, though she halts in her tracks when she sees Alunya draped over Antares.

“Hi mom! I’m fine!” Alunya announces happily, propping up his chin with one arm to allow him to look at her. Antares’ blush gets even fiercer and he pushes Alunya off of him, the younger boy issuing an undignified protest as he was unceremoniously pushed back onto the pile of snow he had made.

“Alright, that's enough of that.” Antares mumbles, embarrassed, as he sits back up.

“Well I’m glad you two are getting along, at least…” Reia mutters. “Be careful, though! I don’t want to see you getting hurt.” She lectures, waggling a finger.

“Yes, mom.” Alunya replies, perhaps a little sullenly.

Reia arches her brow. “I mean it, now. No more snowball fights, you’re too reckless!”

Alunya sits cross legged and crosses his arms, putting on his harshest pouting face. “Yes, mom.”

“Don't you Mom me, I’m just looking out for you because I care.” Reia replies tersely, before looking back. “You two behave yourselves now, I have to go make sure the food doesn't burn.”

Once Reia had left, Alunya sighs and falls over backwards with a thud. What a killjoy…


“It’s alright, I’m sure we can find other things to do.” Antares suggests, encouragingly.

“Hmm…” Alunya murmurs, before starting to swing his legs and arms out. Antares cocks his head at him, confused for a moment before it clicks. Oh, he’s making a snow angel!

Antares flops down above him, so that the brother’s heads were pointing towards each other from either side, and Antares starts to do the same, though the cold snow was starting to bug him as his hands grew numb. Still, it had been too long since he could just cut loose and have fun, and Alunya was enjoying himself too, so he had to prolong it at least a bit.

Don’t worry, you have the whole winter ahead of you!
Antares thinks to himself, smiling brightly. Hopefully there would be plenty more snow until the end of the year and they could play outside every day. Snowmen, snow angels, snowball fights… Maybe we can even go ice fishing. Antares idly thinks about all the fun they could have that winter while shaping his snow angel. With his hands going numb, he decides to give himself a break and stuffs his hands under his armpits to help warm them up, before hopping up to his feet, careful not to disturb the outline he had made.

The two snow angels, his and Alunya’s, were nearly symmetrical, with Antares’ being just slightly taller and more robust at the shoulders- Though, as Antares often noted, the difference in height was getting smaller by the day. Antares winces at the reminder that at the current rate, Alunya would be taller than him soon enough. Still, There is something beautiful about the symmetry, isn't there?

Alunya was lying down in his own snow angel, until he flopped around so that he could draw a wide ellipse in between the snow angels with his finger. “What are you doing?” Antares asks, curiously.

“Giving the angels their halo!” Alunya announces, clambering back up to his feet. “There, now they’re all done!”

“You should have put it closer to yours, then, you can’t even tell which angel the halo belongs to.” Antares advises.

Alunya shakes his head and smiles sunnily at Antares, holding out his hand in a thumbs up gesture and winking. “Nu-uh! They share the same halo!” The snow he had been playing in was clinging to his clothes, blending in with the thin, pristine snow-white hair which matched Antares’ perfectly.

Despite the cold, Antares could feel his heart melt.

…Forget the snow angels, my brother is the real angel.
Chapter VI: Winter Anthology
“Keep your thumbs clear of the saw!” Antares instructs, while Alunya studiously drags the copper sawblade up and down through the ice.

It was a few weeks after the solstice, now, and after an intermittent spell of clear weather following the first snowstorm a few weeks earlier, another cold front had moved in from the southwest and ensured the land remained blanketed in snow, as well as freezing the surface of the river. This was the main river not far from the village, much deeper and wider than the little stream the two had swam in last fall.

“Like this?” Alunya asks, hesitantly, trying to hold the saw like his big brother had shown him while cutting out a circular disk of ice from the top of the river. It was hard work, especially since they were just kids, but with some effort eventually Alunya connects the cut back to where he had started, leaving a jagged, vaguely polygonal chunk of ice- it was not very thick, and Reia had forbidden they go out onto the surface of the ice as a result, but that at least made it easier to cut.

“There, good job! Now we just need to wait for a fish to swim by. The cold water makes them slow and sluggish, so they’re easier to hit.” Antares instructs, tossing Alunya a spear before laying down near his own hole in the ice- Though Reia had told him not to go onto the water, he was lightweight enough that he felt he could manage.

Antares shows Alunya how to hold and thrust with the spear, and then they lay down and wait, Alunya imitating Antares as he prowls over the icy sheets. It is slow going, as Alunya blinks staring down into the dark, frigid waters. It was a long wait, though Alunya does his best to just clench his jaw and keep focused, wanting to do a good job. Still, the cold meant that it was hard for the boy to keep it up for long, and he was starting to get sleepy. When a fish finally does come by the gap in the ice, Alunya had practically nodded off, and didn’t even try to strike.

Alunya shakes his head in frustration and blinks his eyes, trying to rouse himself back to full consciousness. C’mon, you wanna learn how to fish, don't you? Alunya hefts his spear again and narrows his eyes, trying once again to keep focused. Eventually another fish did swim through and Alunya struck, but it was like the spear warped as it entered the water and diverted below the fish. Alunya gawks in dismay. What? But I was right on!

“The water shifts your view of the fish, it's deeper than it looks.” Antares advises. “Here, let me show you-” He creeps over to where Alunya was- A safer spot than Antares’ hole, perched on a rock next to the fishing hole. Antares guides Alunya’s hands, and prods at the river bed. “See? Look how far down we have to reach to find the bottom.” It was deep indeed, and as Antares pointed out Alunya could see the pole of the spear does indeed look like it was at a different angle than it entered.

“Woah…” Alunya murmurs, entranced. Ares is so smart!

Antares cocks his head to the side, so that he could speak in Alunya’s ear directly while still guiding his arms. “You want me to show you?” Antares asks, and Alunya nods emphatically.

The two of them took up place on either side of the little water hole, and the next time a fish swam by, Antares struck- From Alunya’s perspective it looked like he was aiming below his target, but instead it struck the fish in the fin. The fire-hardened spear point wasn't very good at keeping the fish though, and although it was a good hit the fish managed to slip off the spearpoint and flutter away in a mist of blood.

“Darn!” Antares complains, scratching his head and sitting back. Woah, he hit it on the first try! Big brother is so talented! Alunya claps, enthralled.

“Yay! My turn!” Alunya picks up his spear again and creeps over near the edge of the ice.

Antares shrugs. “Yeah, I guess that's enough of a show.” He says sheepishly. Alunya frowns. Why is he upset? He hit it right on, it was just bad luck.

It was a bit of a longer wait, and the two of them idly chatter on about different things; The new chores they’d done last fall, mostly. That dialogue went on for some time, with Antares doing most of the talking, but Alunya still had some to share. “...Mom’s been showing me how to mend clothes!” Alunya boasts. “Maybe once I learn how, I can make something cute for you to wear?”

Antares sputters at the suggestion, as if he was choking- at a bad time, since a fish had just entered his field of view, and by the time he’d gotten recentered and struck it was already gone.

The splash of his spear entering the water startles the fish and it darts further along under the ice sheets- right into Alunya’s hole, who promptly strikes, aiming like his brother had told him, nailing the fish down to the riverbed. He blinks, startled at his own success, not knowing what to do next. I got it! I did just what Antares said and I got it! Ares is such a good teacher.


Antares looks up, startled, to see Alunya had somehow caught the fish he had missed. How is he such a quick learner? I haven’t even caught one fish yet! Still, he didn’t seem to know how to retrieve it, so Antares rushes over to his side, reaching into the frigid water to take a firm grasp of the fish and haul it up out of the water.

Alunya watches in some awe while Antares holds up a knife and quickly runs it through the fish above the skull, wincing at the spurt of blood. It was not the most pleasant experience, but Alunya seems positively enthralled while Antares works, so Antares explains what he was doing. “You just cut it open here to kill it, then you place the knife here…” Antares runs the knife in between the ribs on its ventral side. “...Then you draw the blade up to its gills, here.” Antares makes sure Alunya could see while he draws the blade up, releasing the guts and viscera of the fish.

With a few more steps, he finished processing it and stashed it in the snow, where the cold would keep it fresh enough. “When did you learn to do all of that, Ares?” Alunya asks, wondrously.

Antares scratches the back of his head, a little embarrassed. Although he’d acted like he knew what he was doing, in truth he’d just gotten most of what he knew from watching the men and other boys fishing while he was out doing laundry or other chores. “Ehrm, just picked it up here and there, haha.” Antares pronounces, not wanting to directly admit he’d never actually caught a fish before.

Alunya nods. “Ok, but, next fish you gotta let me try!” Antares nods back in acquiescence, and they return to their individual fishing holes.


“Wow Antares, you caught such a big fish!” Alunya gawks as he lifts the largest partially-butchered fish on the back of the sled he was sitting on, while Antares grunts from the effort of pulling the sled forwards. Between the two of them, they had caught five fish total- Three from Antares, two from Alunya- way more than enough to be worth the time and energy expended on their day out.

Antares huffs with effort as he drags the sled, Alunya peeking out from on top of the sled curiously. “Do you need my help, Ares?”

Antares shakes his head, trying his best to put on a strong face. “Nu-uh, I got it! It's just a little farther and then we can be home.” He insists, as he strains to drag the simple wooden sled up the hill.

Antares stops, huffing and puffing, at the top of the hill to take in the sights. From here, he can just about see the whole village, all arrayed in concentric circles and terraces save for where the river cuts through the center- The same river they had gone fishing at, which wound around the hill and back down towards the middle of the village, with a couple of old wooden bridges quite a ways from Alunya and Antares’ house crossing the river. On the far side of the village, perhaps a half hour walk away, Antares could just barely see a big rocky outcropping that jutted over one side of the village.

Alunya hops off the sled and up to Antares, concern written on his face. “Um, am I too heavy? Maybe I should take my turn?” Alunya squeals out, but Antares just shakes his head, standing upright, brushing his hair back, and grinning widely with a thumbs up to Alunya.

“Not a chance! Just you watch, get back on the sled, and get a good grip!” Antares instructs, and Alunya hesitantly does so despite his misgivings.

Antares gets behind the sled and gives it a big shove- as it dislodges from the snow, he hastily hops on behind Alunya, one leg out on either side of him. It slides forward without much momentum for a second…

And then, as the front of the sled dips down onto the lower slope of the big hill, it picks up speed, the smooth underside of the wooden sled sliding on the fresh, fluffy snow.

Alunya gasps with surprise as his heart jumps in his chest, while Antares wraps both arms around Alunya under his arms to keep a secure grip while the sled picks up more and more speed, rocketing down the hill.

“Ares, we’re flying!” Alunya calls, enchanted, with his arms spread wide like a bird, feeling the air whip past his arms and his hair flowing backwards in the wind. Of course, the sled had not actually lifted off the ground, but that didn’t change how it felt to Alunya.

The two brothers' excited whoops blend together, echoing across the valley as the sled speeds down the hill, before slowly bleeding off its momentum as it skids across the plain at the bottom of the slope, some of the fish flying off into the snow as it stops. Alunya jumps up to his feet, almost falling over as his legs felt like jelly.

“Again! Again!” He cheers, jumping up and down in excitement.

Antares takes a moment to catch his breath, laying back in the sled, before opening his eyes and catching his balance. “You like it, huh?” His eyes shine, but then he hesitates. “...Only, I don’t know if we have time… If Reia catches us out playing too long we’ll get grounded again.” Antares points out.

Alunya puffs out a cheek and crosses his arms. “Ugh… Alright. I guess we’d better get the fish back while they’re still fresh, anyways.”

Antares nods, and the two of them dig through the snow to collect the fish that had been flung from the sled, placing them back, before Alunya takes up the reins. “I’m pulling the sled the rest of the way back, though. You take a good rest!”

Antares opens his mouth to protest, but the steely look Alunya shoots at him quickly makes him shut it again and just walk alongside Alunya as the two of them make their way back to their stone hut.

Alunya pulls the sled up by the door and quickly loots its contents before running inside. “Mom! We’re back!” Alunya announces, running up to Reia, who pauses in her work to face her two sons. “Lookie lookie! We caught these!” Alunya drops everything he’s holding except for the two biggest fish, holding them up to present to Reia.

“Wow, those are some big fish!” Reia chuckles and leans down to pick up Alunya. “Did you have fun?”

Alunya nods emphatically. “Uh-huh! Antares showed me how to prepare them for cooking, so we can eat them for dinner now!”

“Easy now, I don’t think I have time to cook them tonight. I still need to make sure we have enough firewood chopped.” Reia states. “I’m sure they’ll keep if you leave them outside in the cold, as long as no animals find them, then I can try to find time tomorrow.”

Alunya puffs out one cheek, standing up as tall and straight as he could- Almost 150 cm tall, tall enough that he just about came up to Reia’s chin. “C’mon! Ares and I can cook them! We did a good job on the ribs last fall, right?” Alunya pleads. “Right, Ares?”

Antares rubs the back of his head, embarrassed. “But that’s a girl’s job…” He mumbles under his breath- quietly enough that nobody could hear him. Still, the thought of fresh fish for dinner was far more appealing than yet another day of dry, cold cornmeal. So reluctantly, he nods. “Um, yeah, Alunya and I can cook it.”

Reia pauses, the edges of her mouth twitching downwards. It probably wasn’t a good thing that Alunya was so eager to do this, but she supposed that was just the reality of their situation; There was always more work than she could get done alone; There was a reason the firewood hadn’t been chopped back in autumn, and Antares and Alunya were still a bit young to be using a hatchet unsupervised. “Alright, alright. I’ll chop more firewood, you two can start a fire and roast the fish.”

“Yay! You got it!” Alunya winks and strikes a pose before rushing off to take what firewood had already been cut and placing it in the fireplace. Between him and Antares, the two are able to get a fire going, and by the time Reia has finished chopping a supply of firewood to last the next few days at least, three of the fish they had caught were being roasted over the fire, sans their heads and guts.

“Mhm, that smells good-” Reia remarks, setting the firewood down in a corner of the room. “You got a good haul today, huh? That’s plenty for dinner.” Reia reaches over to pat Alunya’s head, causing her son to coo contentedly.

“We caught more than this!” Antares boasts, standing upright. “There's another couple of fish we stowed in the boxes outside! We caught five fish today total!” Antares announces, proudly.

Reia blinks. “...That many? And during the winter, too..?” She mutters softly, surprised. “...Well, I guess we can eat some fish stew tomorrow with the leftovers. Make sure to collect all the fish bones from your fish today, I’ll need them for the broth.”

“Mm-hmm! Roger that!” Alunya salutes his mother and nods his head, before removing the fish from the fire. Once all of the fish have been plated on the round stone tablets that serve as dishware, the family gathered around the table and dug in. By the standards of another culture, the fish might have been a tad bland, lacking in seasoning and being a little dry from being roasted over the fire, but to Alunya and Antares anything beyond dried cornmeal was a king’s feast.

After dinner, it was Alunya’s turn to scrub the ‘plates’ clean, and by the time he was done the sun had disappeared below the mountains. He wasn’t exactly tired, given how short the days were during winter, but there was precious little to do after nightfall- It was too cold to spend time outside at night even with heavy clothing.

But, at least the fireplace provided some heat and light. Antares had already gotten his blanket and curled up by the fireplace, and so Alunya ran off to grab his own blanket from his bed, trailing it into the living room as he plopped down right by Antares’s side, leaning lightly against his older brother.

Deep into the night, the two boys would recount the day’s exploits and plan out all the other things they wanted to do that winter. But as the conversation eventually ebbed away, Alunya found himself captivated by the flickering flames, curling around the wood as it slowly crumbled away to ash and embers.

Alunya would not have thought he would be falling asleep anytime soon- It hadn’t even been that long, he could swear. But before long, he found himself nodding off, leaning up against his older brother who had already succumbed to restful oblivion.

And so, another day filled with fun and excitement vanished, along with the boy’s fading consciousness.
Chapter VII, Late Winter

The rest of winter passed by in a blur of happy memories and play, and before long Antares was once again kept busy, as the snow melts away and the earliest part of planting season started. To make sure the family had enough food, despite limited labor available, Reia always had to start planting as soon as possible- even if that meant being out in the miserable cold rain of late winter.

Such a time was incredibly boring to Alunya, being left without a playmate and forbidden from going outside because of what a mess the poor weather would wreak on him. But there was one thing to look forward to. The spring equinox was not as important of an occasion as the fall, since food stocks were still weak after winter and the harvest held more importance. But for Alunya, it was the most special day of all, for it was his birthday.

81st of Winter, 2891 P.C.

Alunya whistles idly to himself as he deftly maneuvers the sewing needle through the piece of fabric in his hands. There was precious little to do indoors, so he’d taken to practicing his sewing with whatever scraps of fabric he could find.

But as the door swung open, he just about jumped in his skin and hastily hid the piece of cloth underneath himself. For whatever reason, even though Reia had asked him with help repairing some of the family's clothes that had gotten worn out, she got awfully upset if she ever caught him practicing on his own. But as Reia enters the room, it seemed she hadn’t seen, and Alunya breathes a sigh of relief.

Actually, that was rather odd, wasn’t it? What is she doing back? It hasn’t been that long, has it? Alunya nervously glances out the window, worried the entire day had somehow gotten away from him, but it still looked no later than midday. Normally, Reia- And Antares, who was following just behind her, bouncing from foot to foot with readily apparent eagerness- would be gone the entire day.

“I have some good news!” Reia announces, beaming at Alunya. “I had a chat with Tavr- you know, Vekt and Risa’s father? Anyways, he’s agreed to take you and Antares hunting for your birthday!”

“Huh? Me?” Alunya squeaks.

Antares runs up to Alunya and takes his hands in his own, eyes shining excitedly. “Yep! You and me! We’re going to get to go see the mountains in person!” Antares squeals, barely able to contain his own excitement.

“I felt bad that you hadn’t had a chance until now.” Reia adds on. “So I pulled a couple strings here and there and did some talking, and now you’ll have your first real opportunity! Plus, it’s a good way for you to meet some more kids, maybe make some new friends.”

“Come on, Alunya! We gotta go practice!” Antares starts trying to tug Alunya out the door, and Alunya stumbles after him in a bit of a daze.

“Huh? What are we practicing, Ares?” Alunya asks, in an awed tone.

“We gotta go get ready for the trip! That means we gotta practice with the bow!” Antares proclaims. But before they could leave, Reia grabs Alunya’s tunic, yanking him back again.

“Oh, no you don’t you two! You still have chores to do today.” Reia tells Antares. “And I need to make sure that you are presentable before the trip. You’ve put off getting your hair cut for long enough, the winter’s ending so it’s about time you got it cut!” Reia dictates to Alunya.

Alunya gasps in apparent horror and covers his head. He remembered last time Reia had cut his hair- it felt so strange having such short hair. “No, you can’t!” Alunya protests desperately. “I like my hair!”

Reia puts her hands on her hips, sternly. “You and Antares are going to be representing our family when you go, so I won’t have you embarrassing me!” Reia states in a tone that brooks no argument.

Alunya shakes his head furiously, whipping his hair around, but Reia was apparently at the end of her patience. “If you don’t sit still and let me cut your hair, I’m marching right back over to Tavr’s place and telling him I’m canceling our arrangement.” She declares.

Antares’s expression projects pure horror as he hears this, and he gives Alunya a pleading look. “Alunya, please, just this once?” He holds his brother's hand in his own, giving him the big doe eyes he had learned from Alunya.

Alunya bit his lip. He did want to go, and he couldn’t ruin it for Antares either… But…

Looking noticeably depressed, Alunya sighs and sits down at the table, puffing out a cheek and crossing his arms. “Fine…” He mumbles.


Alunya paws at his hair as he looks in the river, dismally. It felt so strange having his hair so short! Plus, now his scalp felt freezing cold. And when he shook his head, he couldn’t even feel his hair flowing in the air! What a disaster… Alunya thinks to himself.

Antares must have been able to tell what he was thinking, because he sat down next to him and wrapped one arm around his shoulders. “Oh, come on Alunya, it’s not that bad. I still think you look cute!”

Alunya gives his brother a wistful smile. “Thanks, Ares.” Alunya leans against Antares, staring down at both of their reflections. At least I look more like Ares now. Alunya thinks to himself- Their reflections were so similar now, to Alunya it looked more like he was staring at two copies of Antares than himself and his brother.

Alunya finally looks away from the water and stands up, stretching. “Well, you wanted to practice before we go hunting, right? We have time now, don’t we?” Alunya cocks his head to the side questioningly.

Antares nods vigorously in reply. “Mm-hmm! So we can go hunting, Reia got us both a bow, so we can go practice with them now! C’mon, I’ll show you where they are!”

Antares takes Alunya’s hand and leads him back to the crates behind their hut, where he digs through them and pulls out their bows- simple ash self bows, which probably took some whittler no more than an hour to put together, with oval cross-section and strings made of rawhide. Antares hands one of the bows- They were identical, as far as Alunya could tell- to Alunya, who tugs on the bowstring experimentally.

“No, look, you gotta pull it back like this.” Antares instructs Alunya, showing how to hold the bowstring. “I’ve seen some of the men using them, just follow my lead.”

Alunya copies after Antares, pulling the bow back with three fingers. It isn’t easy, and takes alot of his strength, but he manages to draw the bow back almost to his cheek.

“Ow!” Alunya yelps as he dry fires the bow, feeling the bowstring slap against his wrist. “That hurts!”

Antares frowns. “Oh, you shouldn’t fire the bow without an arrow. You gotta just relax your draw on it gradually, so that doesn’t happen.”

Alunya frowns back. “...Aren’t we supposed to have something on our wrists to protect them? I’ve seen that’s what the hunters all do.”

Antares rubs the back of his head. “I guess so, yeah. But we don’t have any, so we’ll just have to make do.” Antares handed a bundle of arrows to Alunya. “C’mon, we gotta practice our aim so that when we go out we can actually hit the broad side of a barn. Let’s try hitting… Hm. We don’t have any targets… Maybe we can just aim for that tree?” Antares points over to a medium-sized oak a bit behind the house, standing a little bit away from the rest of the forest. Alunya nods, looking determined, and draws back his bowstring…

Twang. The arrow flies off, landing some ways to the right of the tree.

Alunya gapes in dismay. “Huh? That’s not where I wanted you to go!” He complains to the arrow, as if it was able to respond, before shaking his head.

Twang. Now Antares’s arrow flew, digging into the ground some ways before the tree, and Antares looks at Alunya sheepishly, laughing nervously.

“Eheh… I think we might have alot of practice to go.”


The days between the announcement and the spring equinox pass quickly, and soon enough, Alunya and Antares’s time to prepare has passed.

Alunya looks down towards the middle of the village, both excitedly and a little wistfully. Where normally he’d be getting ready for his birthday celebrations, or maybe even the spring festival, instead he would be going out- Tavr always went out during the festivals. Maybe he doesn’t like the crowds..? Alunya wonders idly to himself.

“Alright, you two. Remember, this might be a special event for you, but Tavr is taking you on as a favor to our family. So don’t demand too much attention, and do your best to fit in. And Alunya, remember what we talked about!” Reia lectures her two boys, who both stand upright and nod.

“Roger that!” Alunya chimes in. “Oh, Ares, before we go, I got something for us!” Alunya presents a simple vambrace made of wool with some scraps of rawhide on the inside, intended to help protect the wrist when firing the bow.

“...Where did you get that from?” Reia asks uncertainly, as Antares takes a look at the vambrace before sliding it onto his right wrist, flexing his hand to see how it feels.

“I stitched it together from whatever I could find, duh.” Alunya says proudly, putting his own vambrace on.

“You shouldn’t…” Reia starts, before sighing. “...Nevermind. Just come along, you two.”

Reia takes her two boys' hands, and after a quick check to make sure they have everything they need- Bows, arrows, fire pistons, satchel, snacks, hunting knives, and more- they set off for Tavr’s residence.
Chapter VIII, The Brutish hunter

Tavr’s residence is not far away, only a quick stroll. It was larger than Reia’s abode, although not by much, and probably was more cramped if anything given that more people lived there. The first to greet Reia and her sons was Yuvia, who was sitting out in front.

“Good morning!” Yuvia calls out.

“Good morning!” Reia replies back, bowing briefly before the steps of the hut. “Thank you so much for taking my boys in, I hope you know how much we appreciate the opportunity.”

Yuvia smiles back at Reia. “It’s no problem. It takes a village to raise a child, after all. Go ahead and head on in, Tavr is getting ready inside.”

Alunya looks around as he steps inside- it wasn’t very often that he saw the inside of any building other than his own family’s cottage. The inside is a cluttered if homey mess- it was considerably messier than his own house, though that was in significant part just because there were more possessions compared to the fairly sparse cottage they called home.

And of course, there was Tavr. A stout and rather hairy man, with a greasy complexion and strong odor that had hit Alunya as soon as he entered the room. Alunya wrinkles his nose and grimaces in disgust, resisting the urge to say something snarky about the older man with some effort. He’d never actually been in close quarters with an adult other than his mother, before. Do they all smell like that? Gross. As if the odor wasn’t bad enough, he looks altogether ungraceful, not at all the image of a dashing hunter that Alunya had formed in his head. Focus, remember, you don’t want to ruin this for Ares… Alunya reminds himself, glancing over at his brother, who was standing upright and stiff as though nervous.

Tavr stops what he was doing, and turns to Reia and her two sons, appraising the two brothers for a moment before standing up. “Alunya and Antares, I presume?” Tavr’s voice was gruff and low, grating and decidedly un-cute to Alunya’s ears. “Name’s Tavr, this here is my son Vekt and daughter Risa.” Tavr motions at his two children sitting at the table. Alunya recognizes Vekt from the festival of course, but he hadn’t ever met Risa, who waves hello at him as Tavr continues. “We’ll be taking care of you for the next couple days. And Hylicia willing, we’ll catch a proper bounty out in the woods. …Now, which one of your birthdays is it?”

Alunya raises his arm eagerly. “Me! Me!” Alunya announces to Tavr, who stares back down at him, making Alunya’s excitement lapse as he remembers who he was talking to. Thankfully, the adult didn’t seem to notice Alunya’s consternation.

“My, your mother wasn’t joking, you are tall for your age…” Tavr mutters to himself, before turning to Reia. “Alright. You can leave the boys here, we were just about to have breakfast before we set off.” Tavr says to Reia, who releases her boys’ hands and bows again.

“Thankyou again for taking them. I don’t know how they’d ever have a chance to learn this kind of thing without your help.” Reia affirms gratefully.

Tavr gives her a pointed look. “Well, you could just get remarried finally…” He mutters sullenly. “But I guess you’re a bit old for that now, aren’t you?”

Reia grits her teeth but does her best to keep a pleasant face on, laughing awkwardly. “Aha, I suppose so.” Her voice is strained as she says that.

“Well, whatever. Rest assured, they’re in good hands with us. We’ll return them to you spick and span in a few days, and maybe they’ll have picked up some more appropriate hobbies, eh?” Tavr laughs.

“Well, I’d better get back to my chores. Have fun, you two!” Reia says to Alunya and Antares, giving them each a final pat on the head before turning on her heel and departing back towards home.

Alunya watches Reia depart before turning back to Vekt and Tavr. As he looks at Vekt, he tries to avoid frowning. He still remembers how mean the boy had been to Antares during the festival, but now he and Antares were guests. Vekt had somehow resisted saying anything particularly venomous to the two of them now, though he had a bit of a self assured, smug look.

“Well, you two, go ahead and take your seats. Risa, go fetch us something to eat, and some corn wine.” Tavr announces, motioning for the two boys to take a seat. “We want to have a full belly before we go out.” His daughter meekly nods her head and takes off.

Alunya purposefully takes the seat across from Vekt, so that Antares doesn't have to sit next to the boy who had mocked him so last festival, while Antares sits across from Tavr.

“So, either of you boys know how to shoot a bow?” Tavr asks, and Alunya and Antares look at each other before nodding emphatically.

“Um, we’ve been practicing! Mom got us bows to practice with in preparation.” Antares reports, puffing out his chest proudly.

“Well, that’s a start at least. How about traps? You ever make a snare?” Tavr follows up.

Antares awkwardly shuffles. “Well um, no, I can’t say I know how. I thought we were just going on a trip though, wouldn’t leaving traps take alot longer…?” Antares asks, meekly.

Tavr thinks for a moment, before shrugging. “I suppose you have a point there.”

Before the conversation could continue, Risa arrives, carrying a platter with bowls of potato soup.

“Thanks, Risa!” Alunya cheers, smiling sunnily at her as he takes his food. “Did you make it? It smells good!”

Risa looks startled, and Vekt glares over at Alunya. “Huh? Oh, I helped mommy make it, but she did most of the work.” Risa replies self consciously, rubbing the back of her head.

“Now go fetch us four satchels and fill them up with biscuits and nuts for the trip.” Tavr instructs dismissively.

Alunya blinks. Four satchels… Wait, Four? Alunya counts everyone in the room. Antares, Risa, Tavr, Vekt, and me. Wait, that’s not four! Alunya gasps in dismay, and Tavr and Vekt both look at him blankly, while Antares turns to him quickly with a concerned look.

“What’s wrong, ‘Lunya?” Antares asks before anyone else can react.

“Why only four? Am I not going?” Alunya protests, while everyone else just looks at him confused.

“...You, your brother, me, and dad.” Vekt responds after a pause, counting each one on their fingers. “Gosh, don’t you even know how to count…?”

Alunya blinks. “Huh? But what about Risa?” Alunya furrows his brow in confusion. How was Vekt going to go hunting without his little sister?

Vekt laughs, while Antares touches his hand to his temple in embarrassment. Tavr just sighs and shakes his head. “No, Alunya, Risa does not come hunting. Her job is to stay here and learn from her mother.”

Alunya quirks his mouth, not really understanding, but shrugs. At least that meant neither he nor Antares were to be left at home, so it wasn’t anything to worry too much about.

Breakfast begins in relative silence, save for the sounds of munching- Everyone was eager to just finish eating and get on with the day. Antares elbows Alunya, who was slurping the soup down and making a bit of a mess all over his face. “C’mon, Alunya, show some manners, we’re not at home.” Antares hisses out through clenched teeth. Alunya rolls his eyes dramatically, but reluctantly slows down, wiping off his mouth.

“Stay here everyone. I just gotta go get a couple things so we’ll be ready to go. We’ll leave as soon as I get back.” Tavr announces once he has finished eating, standing up.

As soon as he was gone, Vekt leans forward, looking suspiciously at Alunya. “Don't think I didn’t see you trying to butter up my sister. I have my eye on you.”

Alunya blinks at him in confusion. What is he talking about? “Huh? What?” His brow furrows as he tries to figure out what Vekt meant by that.

“You think that just because my father invited you over, you can make a pass at Risa? How would a sissy boy like you protect her anyways?” Vekt clenches his fist, hostility in his voice.

Antares jolts up from where he was sitting, gazing fiercely at Vekt, placing both hands on the table. In the meantime between the last festival, Antares had just about caught up with Vekt height wise, though he was still scrawnier. “Don’t talk to my little brother that way.” Antares growls out.

Vekt flinches, startled by Antares’s sudden ferocity, but quickly shoots back another venomous glare. “Yeah? What are you going to do about it, mama’s boy? You’re just a kid not even old enough to have grown out your first beard!” Vekt smugly puts his chin out, showing off the fine stubble that had developed on it since the last time they’d seen each other. He was, apparently, quite proud of it.

Alunya blanches. Does he honestly think that’s impressive…? Alunya wonders, almost in awe of the boy's apparent stupidity. That's like, the exact opposite of being cute. Alunya stares dully at the boy, but quickly decides he has to take Antares’s side, even if the subject of the argument still eludes him. “He’s already taller than you, and I bet he knows how to-” Alunya cuts himself off when he hears the door close behind him, and Antares and Vekt hurriedly sit back down while Tavr returns to the table.

“...Everything alright here?” Tavr asks, suspiciously, standing over the table. There was something subtly off about his posture, a bit more aggressive despite a level tone.

“Yes, father. We were just chatting and got a bit excited.” Vekt reports. Alunya couldn’t help but note he looked a little pale. His father nods after a moment, placing the canteen Alunya just noticed he had returned with on a hook on his belt. “Alright, I got what I needed. Let’s head out.”
Authors note: This chapter here is the first one which I'm not quite sure how the rules for public writing would see, so I've chopped it down a bit to make sure its ok. The main thing I cut is a very detailed, three-page-long description of skinning and gutting an animal, but there was some character development in there too. TLDR: Alunya thinks Tavr looks weird, and is weirdly ok with blood and guts despite being normally squeamish about most other things, though their logic seems alien to Antares. Anyways, have the redacted version of chapter IX.

Chapter IX Redacted: On the Prowl
Once everyone has made sure they had their full pack of supplies, Tavr leads the group off. They head through the village a ways, cutting across the uppermost terraced farms heading westwards rather than going straight into the forest. Tavr explains that the western mountains get more rain, so they are more lush.

Alunya gives an excited glance back at the village as the group reaches the very fringe of the forest, where the dirt footpaths that go to the edge of the cultivated fields end. Then, Alunya looks excitedly over at Antares, who shares his enthusiasm. But Tavr halts, and turns to address the two of them.

“Alright, you two. Your mother tells me you have a bad habit of running off without warning. Well, it should go without saying, but there will be none of that here, you will follow my lead and do exactly as I say, and anyone who thinks they’re above my rules will be getting the back of my hand. I am not about to lose you two in the forest after I took you in.” Tavr dictates.

Alunya blanches. It wasn’t that he was planning to run away, exactly. Maybe more just that he wasn’t used to being threatened. He had half a mind to run off then and there just to prove a point, but… He had promised his mother to be on extra-extra good behavior. Representing our family, remember? So with that thought, Alunya reluctantly stays put and nods affirmation while Tavr finishes his monologue.

Satisfied with Antares and Alunya’s rapt attention and nodded affirmation, Tavr turns on his heel again. “Alright, now stay close. We want to head up into the foothills, there's plenty of water but a bit less vegetation there so it will be easier to find prey. But keep your eyes peeled. If you see any tracks, point them out to me.”

Steadily, the group starts to forge their way into the forest. The vegetation was rather dense on this side of the valley, but Alunya and Antares’ slight frames and flexibility make it pretty easy for them to follow along making minimal noise, ducking below branches and stepping over ferns or other plants. The two of them were wearing the heaviest pants and boots that still fit them, to help protect their legs and feet from stinging plants or insects.

It wasn’t long before the sound of rushing water could be heard and the group found their way to the river- Meltwaters now that it was spring were pouring down the mountain slopes, forming rapids in some areas while others were relatively more calm. The slope of the hill was still gentle, but it was picking up as they headed further uphill, and a waterfall could be seen not too far distant.

Tavr glances back to make sure the two boys are still following along. “We follow along the river- every animal needs to drink, after all. If we find droppings or tracks, then we track our quarry. Otherwise, we’ll camp on the river bank come nightfall.” Tavr explains while they hike along after him. It was easy enough to keep up so far, but only time would tell if they would eventually get tired.

“Why do you go hunting so often, sir?” Antares asks curiously. “I never see you at any of the festivals.”

Tavr snorts. “Bah, festivals. That's more my wife’s forte, I don’t need to see that smug bastard Gatrick or listen to the priest drone on. Rather be doing something productive with my day.”

“Hm? But don’t you find all the games fun? Oh, and what about the food!” Alunya asks, prancing along after Tavr by his side.

Vekt rolls his eyes behind him.”Gosh, you’re such a kid. Do you ever think of anything other than playing?” Vekt asks, dramatically.

Alunya purses his lips for a moment, looking up as he thinks. “Uh-huh! But there's plenty of time to work the rest of the year. Not to say that I’m not happy to be here. I’ve never been this far in the woods before!” Alunya spreads his arms out and looks around the forest, enthralled by everything he sees.

“Hush now, you. You’re going to scare all the prey away.” Tavr snaps at the excitable boy. Alunya makes a zipping motion over his mouth, signaling his intent to stay quiet, and the group continues walking alongside the river up until the cliff where the waterfall was.

From here, it would be necessary to walk some ways away from the river to get up the cliff- it wasn't a very tall waterfall, maybe seven meters, but still enough to be beyond comfortable climbing range for at least one of the expedition.

The river pooled out near the base of the waterfall, forming a pond with a rocky shore and a couple boulders scattered around. The lack of vegetation along the pond's sides and rocky cliffs made it the clearest section the group had walked on in some time, and the fine mist thrown up in the air by the waterfall felt nice to Alunya even if it would probably make them get cold if they stayed for long.

Alunya pauses to look back at the pretty scene, the light scattering of oak trees near the water's edge blessed with the pallid green of new sprouts. “Alunya, come on!” Antares calls out- quietly, because of Tavr’s presence-as he climbs up a small rock shelf jutting out from the cliff wall, the first step up on the slope adjacent to the rock wall, leading to the top of the cliff. Alunya turns back up to Antares, smiles, and races after him.

After climbing up the side of the wall, the group loops back around the upper side of the cliff to the river, heading towards the western bound of the mountain valley, where in the distance could be seen numerous smaller streams and tributaries. As they continue following the river- occasionally passing over small creeks or streams that join up with it- Antares sighs with consternation. They'd been walking for a long while now... He had thought that there would be more action hunting, somehow.

Instead they were mostly just... Hiking. After the small waterfall from a while ago, the terrain had leveled out a little bit, with steep slopes on both sides, and with how much the river wound around he sometimes felt like they were making negative progress, though looking around he could see that they were at a noticeably higher elevation than they had started. The terrain was rougher here, further from the heart of the valley.

At least Alunya is having a good time.
Antares notes, smiling faintly watching his little brother, captivated by the sights all around. They had come across a nice, open glade just past a bend in the river, where the water was wide and shallow, with several large logs or branches having apparently fallen into it.

"Alright, this looks like a good spot for a break." Tavr announces, stopping. "Let's eat a small lunch then get on our way." Vekt was already plopping down on a fallen log and getting snacks out by the time Tavr finishes the instructions.

Antares works up the courage to go up to Tavr, fidgeting a little anxiously. "Um, sir?" Antares asks in an oddly formal tone.

"Yeah? Something the matter, kid?" Tavr responds, sinking his teeth into a wafer of hard, dry cornbread.

"So, um, how long does it take for us to start... you know, hunting?" Antares asks, earnestly. "We've just been walking so far." He didn't want to say it but his legs were sore; He was fit for his age, but this was rough territory to hike through with no paths, and he hadn't ever come this far from the village before.

Tavr shakes his head. "We are hunting. There's been no tracks yet. Not particularly unusual, there's plenty of days where we don't find hide nor hair of anything. If we don't find anything by nightfall then we'll set up camp and head back in the morning."

Antares wilts with disappointment. He had hoped he would have something to brag about when he got back, but instead it looked like he might not even see anything. Suddenly, his nose catches a whiff of a strong, acrid smell that almost makes him gag, and he sees Tavr uncorking his flask- The potent smell of home-brewed corn whiskey reaching his nostrils.

"What's the matter, never smelled a proper drink before?" Tavr asks, a little sardonically- Just for a moment, a little more of the family resemblance between him and his son stood out.

"Um, not up close, really. Mom doesn't have time to make any of that, so we just drink water at home." Antares reports. Tavr raises a brow in surprise.

"Wait, seriously? That's just sad. Nothing like some firewater to put some hair on your chest." Tavr shoves the canteen into Antares's hands. "Here, try some."

Antares eyes the flask uncertainly. It smells far from appetizing, but with Vekt and Tavr watching him he was eager to please. So, he holds his breath to avoid the strong smell burning his nostrils, places the flask to his lips, and leans it backwards.

"Firewater" felt appropriate to the concoction, given that as soon as it touched his tongue it felt like it was burning. Antares tries to force it down, but he can’t help but start coughing and sputtering, spewing out the drink on the ground. Had he swallowed any of it..? He couldn't tell, but his throat felt like it was burning, so… probably?

Tavr just laughs and claps him on his back. "Haha, can't hold your liquor, eh? Guess you need something a bit weaker to start with." Tavr takes his flask back while Antares scrapes his tongue with his teeth- there was a horrible, lingering bitter aftertaste. How in Hylicia's name did anyone enjoy that swill?

Vekt was snickering at him from where he was munching on his sandwich. "Ha, you're such a kid! I could drink liquor when I was half your age!" Vekt mocks. Antares can feel his cheeks burn as he turns away.

"Whatever. I need something more refreshing." Antares mumbles, wishing he had a better excuse, as he gets up and walks over to the riverside, taking a few gulps of cold river water to help wash out the bitter taste.

Alunya was standing up on a rock by the shoreline, staring out at the water with rapt attention. Antares looks over at him. "Something the matter, Alunya..?" Antares asks, questioningly.

Alunya nods. "What's up with those trees?" Alunya points at the wood in the river- where they had snapped off and formed a pile up in the middle of the water, bottling up a small lake or pond behind them and only letting out a limited amount of water. There sure was alot of them.

"What do you mean...? They must have snapped off in a windstorm, or maybe the snowstorm last winter, and..." Antares trails off and he frowns. Actually, Alunya was right, they were rather weird, weren't they? Arranged in too much of an organized pattern.

"No, no! They didn't snap off! Look, it looks like tooth marks-" Alunya points at the place where they had snapped off, then in a hushed and awed tone continues "...Do you think it was a dragon? Do dragons eat trees? Only the stumps, though, I guess..."

The conversation had gotten Tavr's notice now, who strolls over and casts his hand over his eyes looking out at the bundle of branches, twigs, and logs. "Not a dragon. Beavers. Good eye catching that." Tavr announces, sounding satisfied.

Alunya blinks up at Tavr in keen interest. What kind of a monster was a beaver, that it could bite through a solid tree like that? "What's a... 'Bee-furs'?" Alunya asks wondrously, pronouncing the unfamiliar word unsurely.

"Why don't I just show you? C'mon, Vekt. We should set up an ambush." Tavr motions for his son, but then turns to Alunya and Antares. "Alright, you two. Beavers can be dangerous- they're very territorial. So Vekt and I will handle this. We'll find you a good place to hide, so you can sit there and watch, but don't you even think of coming out. Understood?"

Antares frowns in deep frustration. They were finally going to find something, and he wasn't even allowed to participate? But Reia's message- that he was here representing his family, that he had to follow Tavr's instructions precisely- was drilled into his mind, and he reluctantly nods his head. "Yeah, I get it." He replies, perhaps a little sullenly, but Tavr didn't seem to notice.


Alunya and Antares rest, kneeling, some distance from the river, where they can see the shoreline. Vekt and Tavr were hidden in the brush some ways closer to the river- Even though Antares knows exactly where they are, as he had seen them get into hiding, he still has trouble making out their shape.

I guess it makes sense for us to be further away.
Antares reluctantly admits to himself. Our hair probably would stand out like a sore thumb to any creature with eyes. Certainly does back at home. Despite that fact, he still felt a bit miffed. He'd come out here to go hunting, but apparently the first time they would be doing anything, he had to just sit on the sidelines.

...Why do we look like this, anyways?
Antares's bored mind idly wonders- it wasn't like there was much else to focus on, as the time drags out. He was just supposed to stay there and wait- He didn't even have the good fortune to need to remain focused on animals coming through, since apparently it was too 'dangerous' for him to do anything but spectate.

On some level, Antares wished he could look more typical to the rest of the village; just about everyone else he'd ever met had black hair, maybe a handful that was closer to dark brown. It wasn't that he hated standing out, exactly- He did appreciate attention. But he had a sneaking suspicion that his weird looks were why he received so many weird looks- not just from other kids like Vekt, but adults, too. And that went doubly so for Alunya, whose delicate appearance always attracted askance looks whenever he went out. I wonder if that's why Mom doesn't like letting him outside on his own. Antares thinks idly.

Speaking of Alunya... Antares glances over at his younger brother, curiously. It must be hell for the excitable young boy to stay still this long; He was practically vibrating, his eyes peeled extra-wide open and darting around.

The seconds drag on, painfully slowly. To stay quiet, not only can Antares not move, but he isn’t even able to talk to Alunya, making it particularly boring. I'm kind of amazed Alunya's managed to keep still this long. Antares remarks to himself in mild amusement. Still, it seems probable that Alunya would end up moving before their wait was over, since who knew how long it would be.

But that was not to be, because as soon as the thought crosses Antares’s mind, his attention is drawn by movement by the waters edge. He narrows his eyes to see an animal- Not as tall as a deer, but definitely stouter- waddling out of the water, towards the forest. Antares glances over at Alunya to make sure his brother had seen it, and sees Alunya staring keenly at it. It’s like nothing he'd ever seen, a slick furry beast, so low to the ground that he can’t see legs, with a wide paddle-like tail covered in scales. The creature is somewhat bulky, but Antares still finds himself wondering how such a creature could bite through a tree. It doesn't look that strong.

Whatever it was, its senses must be more attuned than Antares’, because it looks up with alertness, sniffing at the air, as if something had alarmed it. But it was too late by then, as an arrow flies from the woods into its side- Before its cry can even finish, more arrows fire from both sides of the clearing where Vekt and Tavr were hiding, flint-tipped arrows piercing the thick fur and hide of the beast.

The sounds that emits from the beaver are nothing like what Antares expected, a high pitched squeal rather than a monstrous roar. As Tavr leaves the woods, the injured animal bolts towards the water as fast as its stubby legs could carry it. But before it can get far, Tavr sticks it in the neck with a short spear, catching it in place, while Vekt emerges and hovers over it on the other side. The creature continues trying to struggle and whining, but it had been punctured in its vitals in multiple places, and wasn't fit to keep struggling.

Vekt crosses over it from the front, and Tavr was hovering over its back- both firmly focused on their prey, so that neither sees the second animal bolting from the underbrush behind them. "Vekt, look out!" Antares shouts, eyes wide open in alarm. Vekt looks up in alarm, too late to defend from the aggrieved, territorial mammal that barrels into him, knocking him prone, sturdy teeth opened wide to rip him apart like a tree. This one was larger than the other one, maybe even as large as Vekt was.

While Tavr is stunned, Alunya is already moving, bursting from the trees with the tip of his tongue just poking out from his mouth in concentration, as the overeager energy of the boy finally had an outlet. In one smooth motion, he darts forward, nocking, drawing, and then firing an arrow in a snap.


The sound of the bowstring echoes as the arrow darts through the air, sailing straight to fly between the open jaws of the beaver, burying itself in the creature's throat. The beaver makes an odd sound, somewhere between a chitter and cough, as its attempts to bite were suddenly interrupted by being choked on its own blood, before promptly having its end spelled when Tavr got his wits about him and thrust his spear through the creature's eye socket.

Vekt cowers on the ground in terror, wide-eyed. All of that had passed in just a couple of seconds, with no time to react- From cockily observing his kill, to suddenly having a beast knock him prone, and then have it killed before he had time to even react, the still warm corpse of the beast on top of him. They were goofy looking creatures, compact with stubby feet- one really wouldn't expect they could be as heavy or muscular as they were.

"What happened? Who shot that?" Tavr asks, looking around in a daze as he places his boot on the side of the beaver, rolling it off of his son.

"I-I did, sir!" Alunya announces, anxiously standing upright. "I-I'm sorry, sir! I know you told me to stay still, my body just moved on its own!"

"You're sorry? Kid, I don't think I've ever seen someone make a shot that fine, let alone on their first outing." Tavr shakes his head in amazement. "You just about saved my son's life, I reckon. Or at least, his good looks." He barks out a laugh, before turning to look at his son, still lying on the ground pale. "As for you, I told you to be observant. We'll talk when we're back home without anyone listening." His voice takes on a noticeable hard edge as he addresses his son, leaving him lying there in the dirt.

Alunya blanches. It wasn't like he minded that Vekt of all people was getting scolded- Honestly, he wasn't sure if maybe he should have just let him get killed, it would probably make life easier on Antares- but Tavr's standards were clearly unreasonable. It wasn't like the grown man had noticed the beaver any more than Vekt had.

But Vekt just nods, gulping anxiously, and unsurely scoots back to sit up, before standing up on wobbly legs. "I-I reckon I should thank you, huh?" He offers to Alunya, his usual bravado at least temporarily dispelled by his near-death experience. His father snorts derisively just a couple feet away, as if to say "I daresay you should."

Vekt laughs awkwardly, rubbing the back of his head. "I um, really wouldn't have thought you had it in you. I guess I misjudged you."

Alunya just stares at him skeptically. Does he really think he can just act like he hadn't said all those mean things to my brother, just like that? So Alunya just shrugs coolly and turns to Tavr. "What do we do now, mister Tavr sir?"Tavr strokes the hairs on his chin- Much longer and thicker, and by extension even less cute, than the ones on his son's, Alunya notes with a mild sense of disgust. "Well, we need to get these back home where we can butcher them. Can't let all our hard work go to waste, eh? Vekt! Go fetch the ties, they're in my satchel." Tavr had sat down his satchel while eating and hadn't collected yet, so Vekt scurries to go get them.

Tavr then motions for Alunya and Antares to come closer as he draws his hunting knife, a thick copper blade not too different from Reia's slaughtering knife.

Once the group had appropriately butchered the carcass, they washed up in the stream. Thankfully the group had brought soap for just such a purpose and after trading it around, all of them were able to get reasonably clean. It definitely felt very cold, but they had dressed warmly enough so once they had finished up cleaning and gotten dressed again, it wasn’t too bad.

To prepare them for carrying, the beavers had their legs tied together and snow stuffed into the carcasses to help cool them down. A piece of timber was stuck between their legs to carry them by- suitable pieces of wood were, fortunately, in ready supply, given that the beavers had already pared them down into reasonably sized beams for their dam.

Vekt and Antares were assigned to carry one of the beavers, while Tavr carried the other- Vekt and Antares could share the burden by resting one end of the beam of wood on either of their shoulders.

Antares shudders as they start the trudge back. My shoulder is going to be killing me by the time we get back... He didn't think of himself as lazy, but carrying such a large quarry miles through rough terrain to get back in time before it started deteriorating…

The way back was not the fastest, given that not only were they heading through rough terrain while more tired than before, but also carrying a heavy weight now. But, at least they were moving downhill.

By the time they reached the waterfall, Antares’s calves and shoulder were both quite sore, but in the end it wasn’t Antares that stopped the group; Suddenly, the weight Antares was carrying was much increased, and the carcass slumped back as Vekt dropped it with a gasp.

“I-I think I need a bit of a rest. That thing’s heavy!” Vekt announces, looking a bit queasy, maybe nervous. Tavr and Alunya look back at him, startled; Antares was just glad that he got a bit of a rest now too, as he slumped his shoulders down.

“Oh, that’s alright! I can help carry it!” Alunya announces cheerfully, hopping back up the hill to retrieve the other side of the beaver.

“...Are you sure?” Vekt asks skeptically as the younger boy lifts one end of the load.

Alunya just puffs out his chest and flexes one of his arms. “Don’t worry! I’m stronger than I look! Really!” Alunya affirms.

“Well, if that’s all, let’s get a move on. We want to get these things back home as soon as possible.” Tavr dictates, motioning with his head onwards. Antares groans in response- So much for his break. But he didn’t necessarily disagree, the sooner they were home the sooner he could rest his aching shoulders, and they were most of the way there now.

The rest of the hike back through the woods is largely uneventful, and the group reaches view of the village just a little bit before the sun sunk below the western mountains behind them. Twilight always lasts a long time in the vale, as the tall mountains would cut off the sun well before night proper had actually set in.

At this time, there were few people outside, so the procession carried their quarry through the upper terraces of the farms with relatively little fuss. Yuvia was not outside of their home this time, so there was no one to greet them as they reached Tavr's house, but Alunya could hear voices from inside.

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